Kansas mulls coronavirus tests for all in prison, care homes
April 23, 2020
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas' top health official said Wednesday that the state is considering testing all prison inmates and residents of long-term care homes for the coronavirus, as such homes have accounted for more than half of the state's COVID-19-related deaths and a prison has had a major outbreak.
Dr. Lee Norman, head of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said the state also is looking at testing all of those institutions' employees. He said such testing represents population studies the state must do to determine the true extent of the virus.
"We haven't had the testing materials to do that," Norman said during an Associated Press interview. "We're just coming up to that now."
Gov. Laura Kelly, who issued a statewide stay-at-home order on March 30, has said that expanded testing is key to gradually reopening the state's economy. Kansas has had among the lowest testing rates of any state, 6.94 per 1,000 residents as of Wednesday, which was well below the national rate.
State officials said it's been difficult to get supplies. Norman said Wednesday that there's been under-reporting of tests by private labs.
Norman said the state has seen 17 clusters of coronavirus cases in long-term care homes, accounting for 58 of the state's 110 COVID-19-related deaths reported as of Wednesday. Twenty-seven deaths, alone, were from an outbreak at the Riverbend Post Acute Rehabilitation in Kansas City, Kansas.
Kansas officials said state and federal inspectors are looking into infection control measures that are being implemented at the Riverbend facility.
Norman said during a Statehouse news conference: "They should be able to go back to a full and normal existence once the cleansing and once the 'X' number of days out are sufficient so that there's not transmission of new cases."
Cory Schulte, Riverbend's executive director, didn't immediately reply to a phone message Wednesday seeking comment.
For some people, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. For most, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks.
The state reported Wednesday that it has 2,211 confirmed coronavirus cases, up 9.2% or 186 from Tuesday. However, with Kansas testing at a low rate — and not people who don't show symptoms — the number very likely under-reports cases. The state reported three new COVID-19-related deaths Wednesday.
The state prison in Lansing, outside Kansas City, has had 110 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 50 among inmates. The state faces an American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas lawsuit seeking the release of vulnerable inmates and Kelly said she's "very close" to announcing a plan, though, it won't affect "a whole huge number."
Like some other states, Kansas has seen outbreaks in meatpacking plants. Of the 19 coronavirus-case clusters among businesses, six involve meatpacking plants, accounting for 168 confirmed cases but no deaths, Norman said.
Kelly said there have been no discussions with the companies yet about closing meatpacking plants, just how to protect their workers. In Iowa, Tyson Foods suspended operations Wednesday at its largest pork processing plant.
Kansas accounts for roughly a quarter of the nation's beef, and Kelly said, "It's a very, very important supply chain that we need to keep as productive as we can."
Meanwhile, the Legislature is not expecting to reconvene Monday from an unusually long, coronavirus-inspired spring break as previously planned. Legislative leaders postponed a decision on when to return to as late as May 6.
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