May 6, 2020

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly Coronavirus Press Conference Transcript May 6

Kansas Briefing Transcript April 10
RevBlogTranscriptsCOVID-19 Briefing & Press Conference TranscriptsKansas Gov. Laura Kelly Coronavirus Press Conference Transcript May 6

Governor Laura Kelly held a Wednesday, May 6 COVID-19 update for Kansas. Kelly asked Kansans to follow the reopening “Phase One” guidelines. Read the full transcript of her speech today.


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Laura Kelly: (00:16)
Afternoon everybody. Well, it’s been just a few days since my last briefing, a lot has happened. But before we begin with the COVID-19 briefing, I wanted to express my sincere condolences to the family, the friends and the colleagues of Officer Mike Mosher of Overland Park who was killed in the line of duty over the weekend. He was just 37 years old.

Laura Kelly: (00:49)
He leaves behind a legion of loved ones and a lasting legacy of helping countless people in his community. Officer Mosher was a decorated veteran who had served with the Overland Park Police Department for 15 years. Among his accomplishments, he was named at the Metropolitan Chiefs and Sheriffs Association Officer of the Year for his actions during an ambush shooting in 2018. Without question, he devoted his life’s work to protecting others in heroic fashion. In tribute, I will order flags to be flown at half-staff statewide on the day of officer Mosher’s funeral.

Laura Kelly: (01:32)
I will also sign an executive order today adding police, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders to the list of Kansans honored posthumously in the solemn lowering of flags to half-staff. This executive order will amend a previous order that has been on the books for decade now to include a specific protocol for first responders who died in the line of duty. Well, the danger to our first responders is a constant. The COVID-19 pandemic has driven home in yet another way, the dedication of so many Kansans who day in and day out, quite literally, put their lives on the line to keep us safe. We must never take their courage and their professionalism for granted. Our frontline workers and hospitals are also performing heroic life saving work every minute of every day. Today is National Nurses Day. We owe heartfelt thanks to all nurses and their fellow healthcare workers who are battling this public health crisis around the clock at great risk to their own wellbeing. To honor their contributions we must personally commit to doing what we as individuals can do to block the spread of the virus.

Laura Kelly: (02:52)
One way to respect everyone working so hard to keep us safe is by wearing a mask in public and encouraging our family, friends, and coworkers to do the same. It’s estimated that anywhere from six to almost 18% of those infected can carry the virus without developing symptoms and some people can be infected for up to 14 days before symptoms develop and unknowingly transmit the virus to others. We all need to do our part to keep the virus from spreading. This means, limiting your travel to essential trips and doing your best to avoid crowded stores, businesses, and parks. And please continue to wash your hands frequently. You can find more tips on how to protect yourself and others, including simple instructions on making a mask on our website,

Laura Kelly: (03:48)
I also want to say thank you again to Kansans for following our stay at home guidelines. I know it hasn’t been easy, but because of your commitment to staying home, social distancing and practicing good hygiene in the past month, we were able to loosen some restrictions earlier this week. Last week I announced the state’s official plan to reopen our economy in a cautious, measured way. We’ll continue to reevaluate Kansas’ disease spread, testing rates, hospitalizations, personal protection equipment availability, and other factors before moving from one phase to the next. Science and data will dictate how quickly or how slowly the reopening unfolds.

Laura Kelly: (04:37)
We’re currently in phase one of our gradual reopening plan. In this phase, we strongly encourage everyone to maintain six feet of social distance in public settings and as I’ve already said, wear a mask. This is consistent with CDC guidelines. We simply cannot let our guard down. Until a vaccine is developed and readily available, COVID-19 will be an ongoing threat. We must all do all we can to protect ourselves and each other. So please be cautious, thoughtful, and mindful of the continued threat of COVID-19. Flattening the curve truly is a community effort and there’s no better way to show your neighbors how much you care for them than by following public health guidelines. With that I’ll turn it over to Dr. Lee Norman Secretary Department of Health and Environment.

Dr. Lee Norman: (05:32)
Thank you Governor Kelly. Today, May sixth, we have a total number of positive cases in Kansas of 5,734, an increase in 276 cases since yesterday. 36,380 negatives. We have 144 deaths, which is an increase in seven from yesterday. Five of seven were identified through death certificates. This means they were either not initially reported in our [EPI track 00:00:06:02] System, which is our epidemiology tracking system in the state, or that portion of the EPI tracks had been left blank or marked unknown.

Dr. Lee Norman: (06:12)
It is important to keep in mind a few things when looking at our daily numbers, our numbers are only as good as what is reported to us, typically from the local health departments and laboratories. We often see batch numbers that come in, and where they might’ve been withheld for a day or two and then come in batches, and there is sometimes a delay in reporting. As an example, Southwest Kansas has seeing a sharp increase as we’ve talked about and we’ve seen an increase in testing numbers and an increase in the number of case counts. The time of day they report to us depends on when they are included in our daily case count. The map on our COVID-19 website is updated about noon or 12:30 every day. The reason I bring this up is because I think it’s important to not focus necessarily one day to the next, but to watch overall trend lines as time goes on.

Dr. Lee Norman: (07:02)
Currently the state is monitoring 75 clusters, and a breakdown, 30 are in private companies with 339 cases and four deaths. 22 are in longterm care facilities, including 498 cases including 81 deaths, eight are in church or church related gatherings, 110 cases and eight deaths. There are six meatpacking outbreaks with 985 cases and two deaths associated. Three group living situations with 40 cases and zero deaths. Three correctional facilities, Lansing as we’ve talked about in the past, the Wichita work release, and the Grossman Center with 479 cases and two deaths. Three healthcare facilities with 21 cases and zero deaths, and a note about Lansing. Testing of all inmates in Lansing was completed on the fifth of this month. We should have a complete report of all those results later this week. Staff will be tested in totality by the early part of next week.

Dr. Lee Norman: (08:06)
Testing. With more testing supplies available in Kansas the KDHE is encouraging providers to begin testing anyone who is symptomatic. You’ll recall we had more restrictive guidelines in the past. We’ve made those more liberal, but still requires symptoms. Symptoms of COVID-19 are ever expanding, interestingly, as we’ve gotten more experience with this particular virus. Fever remains as a symptom of course, chills, rigors, meaning the shaking that goes along with fever and chills, myalgia meaning muscle pains or aches, not due to like gardening and heavy lifting, those kinds of things. Malaise which is a general feeling of [blah 00:08:50] And lack of energy, headaches or throat, lower respiratory illness, including cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Interestingly, and we’ve talked about this becoming a fairly common one, is the loss of the sense of smell or …

Dr. Lee Norman: (09:03)
Used to have two more of the symptoms. If testing is done through private labs, we encourage the testing of those people to have one or more symptoms. One other thing I wanted to point out today is we’re starting to work with other labs that are looking at new and novel testing methods. For example, we have one lab we’re working with, a commercial lab, that is going through the testing process leading, we hope soon, to FDA approval of saliva test. Which, when you think about it, putting a swab, and we’ve talked about swabs a lot, up in the nasal pharynx, it’s not fun. And anybody can spit into a test tube. And if it comes up being like we think it will, that’ll be a real adjunct. It’ll make it easier for people to do a saliva test.

Dr. Lee Norman: (10:34)
And also there’s a serum test that is being worked on. We’re going to be, when I say experimenting with it, meaning getting some experience with it, that may use the antibodies. You will recall that antibodies are produced in the blood and it goes after the virus. And there’s a couple of different ones, IgM, IgG. Those serology tests have been out there, but they’ve not been specific for COVID-19. And what the goal is is as we move into population testing to have an antibody test that is quite specific to COVID-19, not those coronaviruses that cause the common cold. And we’re getting more and more optimistic that even though we have, for now, sufficient testing capability as I just described with the 60,000 we talked last week and early in the week with the White House and CDC that had promised 60,000 test kits a month so we could test 2% of the Kansans to get a really great understanding of the population dynamics with this particular illness, those test kits have started coming in the door already. And so I’m getting more and more optimistic, but we would like to have a number of testing modalities available so that’s why we’re looking at the future. That’s the end of my comments, Governor.

Laura Kelly: (11:57)
Very good, questions?

Speaker 1: (11:58)
Yes. Dr. Norman, you all have talked a lot about contact tracing. Where does the hiring of 400 people stand? And how many of them are going to be volunteers? And how many of them are in place now? And how many contacts can 400 people trace?

Dr. Lee Norman: (12:21)
Yeah, that was four questions and I think the answer is fine, thank you. We are bringing in cohorts of 25 to 50. We’ve got, I believe, right about 200 people now. We are at the mid-150ish range last week. 25 of the core staff are going to be employed by the agency and the rest will be, at this point in time, volunteers. And we’ve had no shortage of people contacting us that want to be contact tracers. I think we’ll get a little bit stretched thin when people start going back to work as the economy and as businesses open back up again. We have some physically in place in southwest Kansas, for example. We have a whole group of people in our agency here. But mostly, this is done by telephone so people can be anywhere. And of course, trying to limit travel. We would encourage them to remain out of harm’s way and in their own home to do the contact tracing by phone.

Speaker 1: (13:23)
How many people can one tracer trace?

Dr. Lee Norman: (13:26)
It depends on the … The question is how many people can one person trace? It depends on the nature of the interview. It can be as little as five or ten minutes per person, so they can do many in a day. And we had an example of one case that we heard about today that had 200, one confirmed case had 200 contacts that will all need to be followed up by telephone. So the person who has the positive test and therefore the illness is a very detailed investigative interview. And that’s what the 25 staffers I’m talking about will do that. The contact tracing itself is much more basic. And that person does not have to be the contact tracer themselves. It doesn’t have to be a medical person. They can be somebody that can follow a script because it’s mostly fairly simple things like how do you feel? Do you have a fever? Have you had any of this? Have you had any of that? Pretty straightforward.

Speaker 2: (14:18)
Secretary, counties generally take the lead on the contact tracing, right? So how do your state tracers integrate into those county operations? Which cases do they work versus the county?

Dr. Lee Norman: (14:28)
Yes. The question is how do we interact with the counties? We are there to supplement the counties. The counties have primary responsibility and will do the initial contacts and then ask for assistance in an overflow way, if you will.

Speaker 3: (14:44)
Secretary, even though it’s only been a couple days, how would you say the reopening is going so far? And what kinds of signs will you be looking for within the next couple days as to if you’re going to need to re-implement some precautions?

Dr. Lee Norman: (14:59)
Yeah, good question. It’s probably a little too soon to know how it’s going. I think it would be anecdotal and just in looking around and that’s not good science. What we will always be looking at is a fairly lengthy period of time and not one day to the next, one day to the next. And again, it’s because of the variability I mentioned about when things are reported. And for example, we know that weekends, there’s just as much activity going on about testing and our laboratory’s just as busy. And by the way, we are extending our hours in the laboratory to ramp up to even more testing capability. So it’s always going to be busy with more cases reported the first part of the week. So we look over a period of the last 14 days, which makes sense for two reasons.

Dr. Lee Norman: (15:51)
One is that’s the incubation period for the virus and you’d like to see in two week increments if you’re making headway. And then secondly, you’re always trying to catch up in terms of the amount of reporting and data entry. As boring as that may sound, it’s a real phenomenon.

Speaker 4: (16:10)
Secretary, can you explain where we are in the process of the machine that cleans masks? Is that operational right now?

Dr. Lee Norman: (16:18)
It’s operational now.

Speaker 4: (16:19)
How many is it doing right now? And then how does it get decided? Let’s say a nurse would rather have a new mask or hospitals would like new masks. Are you still sending them new masks or is it just cleaning now?

Dr. Lee Norman: (16:31)
I think I’ll bring that back next time with a more detailed process flow. We do know that the masks are barcoded so that we know whose mask it is and how many times it’s gone through that. And I think it’s around 18,000 masks a day, but I think I better not stick my neck out with that. I’ll come back to you with a more complete answer on Friday because it’s a very interesting flow. And keep in mind, this is not a little tanning bed. This is seven CONEX trailers.

Speaker 4: (17:04)
Are there still a lot of new masks that you guys have that are still being dispersed?

Dr. Lee Norman: (17:08)

Speaker 4: (17:09)
To anyone?

Dr. Lee Norman: (17:11)
Not to anyone. We don’t, for example, to private businesses. We have it to health departments and nonprofits and those kinds of things.

Speaker 5: (17:22)
Secretary, is contact tracing any good if there are so many asymptomatic patients of this particular illness and we’re usually not testing them?

Dr. Lee Norman: (17:32)
Right. So the question is, to make sure I understand, is contact tracing valuable knowing full well that a lot of the people on the other end of the phone, even if they have it, will be asymptomatic? That is a limiting factor. That’s why we want to do more population testing to really understand in those asymptomatic people. Because any one of us could be exposed to somebody that’s asymptomatic. And it’s a limitation of verbal contact tracing, yes.

Speaker 7: (18:03)
Why the big outbreak at Lansing, but no other prisons? Is there something unique about Lansing?

Dr. Lee Norman: (18:11)
Was that for me?

Speaker 7: (18:11)
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Lee Norman: (18:12)
I don’t think there’s anything specifically unique because prisons crowd more than we like. I mean, in an optimal world, there would be more room to spread out. I think what probably in retrospect happened at Lansing was that there was a certain number of cases. And remember, we talked about an R0 of five, when you go from one, to six, to 30 that goes very quickly. And I think maybe that it was just a certain burden of cases there before it was recognized as such, as per the other earlier question. And again, a lot of them are younger population, they’re more likely to be asymptomatic. Probably, and this is a little bit of a conjecture, but probably that there was a fair number of asymptomatic people, and then it got a toe hold, and then it goes pretty quickly.

Speaker 8: (19:04)
Well, I’m curious, why did you test the inmates first rather than the staff? I mean, some folks might argue that the inmates are there for a reason because they committed crimes. And so, the staff are probably more deserving of attention first.

Dr. Lee Norman: (19:20)
Well, I think first off, on the morality of it, I think people are people. And we want to decrease the burden of disease in all people. Second, the logistics are that staff come. And it depends on what their work schedule and rotation is in terms of the likelihood. We’ve tested a lot of staff people already. This is just essentially cleaning up the last cohort of people that have not yet been tested.

Speaker 10: (19:44)
Governor, we’ve kind of delayed the releasing of [inaudible 00:19:50] so far. Are you still considering that? And, if not, what are you thinking instead that could help stop the spread inside prisons?

Laura Kelly: (19:54)
Yeah. The issue of releasing folks from prison is an ongoing one. I expect that it will be sort of a rolling measure that, now that we’ve got the system in place to verify who is eligible for that and who’s at risk, low risk, whatever, we can continue to do that. I think, it’s been interesting that up tick on it has not been what you might expect. There have been some who’ve been eligible who have chosen not to be. And, when we talk about release, let’s remember that these folks are leaving on house arrest. They’re not actually being released. So, but it’s an ongoing process.

Speaker 11: (20:37)

Speaker 12: (20:37)
Governor, do you-

Laura Kelly: (20:38)
Wait. Go.

Speaker 11: (20:39)
We’re still getting complaints about people having trouble with the unemployment website online. What are you doing to fix that? And do you have any alternative or initiatives in place to help those folks?

Laura Kelly: (20:51)
Yeah. The issue with the unemployment process is an ongoing one. We’re fully aware of it. We knew from the get go that we had a huge problem on our hands when the demand went from record lows to record highs overnight. The department did what they could and continues to do that to beef up the staffing so that we have a whole lot more people there responding to those calls, working online to process this as fast as we possibly can. Some of it has gotten better and we’ve been able to respond to more calls. And the number of calls that aren’t getting answered are decreasing on a daily basis.

Laura Kelly: (21:37)
There are a couple of other things, monkey wrenches that were thrown in there that have created even greater problems. And that was, while it’s a wonderful thing that the feds decided to give an additional $600 of unemployment to folks who are eligible for Kansas unemployment, that’s great. But the problem is the feds didn’t send that money to them. The fed said Kansas, you send that money to them. So, we’ve had to develop an entire platform to be able to handle that.

Laura Kelly: (22:07)
It’s the same with gig workers and self employed. That’s never been something that states have had in place because it wasn’t legal to give unemployment to those folks. So, now that the feds made that legal, they again didn’t take care of that on the federal level, like they might your tax returns. Instead, they said, okay states, you implement that. So, 50 states that had to implement systems to be able to make that happen.

Laura Kelly: (22:36)
So, all of that is creating a huge problem for every state. And we’re doing what we can with a very antiquated system as quickly as we can. And we will continue to work on it. We know it’s important. And we’re not ignoring it at all. And I know people are frustrated. I know a lot of calls are going unanswered, but I can’t begin to tell you how many calls are getting answered and how many checks are going out.

Speaker 13: (22:46)
What other options do workers have to get their money?

Laura Kelly: (22:46)
I’m sorry?

Speaker 13: (23:04)
What other options are available for these people to get their money?

Laura Kelly: (23:06)
There really are no other options than to work through the system. And it’s taking time. I will reassure those that have been frustrated by not being able to get in or not getting the checks that there will be a retrospective payments so that, while we weren’t able to get it to them in a timely fashion, they will get back to March 1st to March 30th. I can’t remember the exact date. But-

Speaker 14: (23:33)
Secretary, are there legitimate reasons for people to fear going back to work? For example, maybe I’m over 65 and I’m working, or I’ve had my spleen removed, or maybe I’m concerned that my employer isn’t taking the precautions that are necessary in my workplace. And, if so, what would your advice be to people who have those fears?

Dr. Lee Norman: (23:58)
Yes. I think that it is legitimate, I think, for people to be concerned about getting infected with COVID-19, whether it’s in their home, or going back and forth from work, or in the work setting. I think that’s legitimate. It’s just the same as we’ve seen with essential workers, whether they’re healthcare, or first responders, and others.

Dr. Lee Norman: (24:16)
I think the best thing to do is to tend to the knitting. And all the advice that we’ve given all along, it still holds to the social distancing, work from home when you can, tele work if possible. If you are going back, to make sure the surfaces are clean, hands are clean, masks are worn. I think the blocking and tackling with the basics is the best that people can do. And I think, actually, it should be pretty good. The fact that we are here with you indicates, and I can’t speak for the governor, but I’m over age 65. And I do pay attention to all those admonitions to do things properly. And I feel comfortable as long as we’re doing that.

Speaker 14: (25:00)
But say a waitress who might actually have to go up to a table with new people constantly?

Dr. Lee Norman: (25:07)
Yeah. I think, again, two ships passing in the night are very low risk. We know that. And, as long as they don’t hang around and chitchat, I think they should be fine. But you cannot mitigate risk down to zero. There’s no question about that.

John: (25:23)
But, Governor, that raises the question that’s come up in other states, this issue of people who voluntarily quit not getting unemployment. And, in some states, if they fear going back to work and they don’t come into work, they get fired, they don’t get unemployment. Are you looking at changing the state’s policy on that?

Laura Kelly: (25:42)
Well, John, that issue of, if I’m afraid to go back to work and I don’t go back to work and so I get fired, can I get unemployment or not? We are going to deal with that on a case by case basis. So, and it will be tedious to do that. But we think it’s important not to just have a blanket, if you’re called back to work and you don’t go back to work because you’re afraid or you’ve got an underlying condition or whatever that you just aren’t going to get unemployment. We don’t want to approach it that way. We really do want to take into account individual circumstances.

Speaker 15: (26:17)
Governor, with concerns of a second wave coming of COVID-19, what will it take to re-implement another stay at home order, if there is a second wave?

Laura Kelly: (26:29)
Well, you want to know technically what it will take? It’ll take the lawyer putting it together for us and my announcing it. But what it’s going to take will be the data and the recommendations of our public health people. If the trends that we’re seeing now start to reverse, we’re obviously going to sit down and we’re going to talk about that. What do we need to do? I think there is anticipation of a second wave in the fall. And I think we’re preparing for that. I think part of what we’ve been putting in place, including the phased-

Laura Kelly: (27:03)
… in reopening, would allow us to pull those back as things change, in September, October, November.

Laura Kelly: (27:13)
I think the fact that our schools, within a matter of three or four days, we’re able to put together a pretty comprehensive continuous learning program outside of our school buildings, will give us the freedom, in November, if we have to, to say, “You know what? We have to get out of the buildings for a while.” But, then we can re-implement those continuous learning programs.

Laura Kelly: (27:36)
So, a lot of what we’re learning right now, will put us in much better stead. We’ll be much better prepared if a second wave hits us. I think we’ll do a lot better job. Well, we’ll anticipate, we’ll know, we’ll have stockpile of the personal protective equipment and the testing, all the things that we can anticipate now needing, which we couldn’t have anticipated in December.

Reporter: (28:01)
[crosstalk 00:28:01] businesses or companies be allowed to keep people out if they’re not wearing a mask? There’s rumors that there are some businesses that do not allow you inside if you are not wearing a mask.

Laura Kelly: (28:14)
I’m perfectly fine with that. Whether that’s legal or not, I honestly don’t know, but I think that if that business owner thinks that that’s the safest thing to do for his employees and his customers, I’m not going to step in and tell him no.

Reporter: (28:35)
When it comes to barbershops and nail salons, they weren’t in phase one. What would you want to see out of patrons and workers there? You are clearly touching another person there. What can they do to protect themselves and each other?

Lee Norman: (28:48)
Well, yes, you can’t socially distance when you’re doing a pedicure or a haircut, and I think that wearing a mask and make sure that the equipment is washed in between times, that the chair is swabbed down, attention to hand hygiene, making sure you stay at home, the basic admonitions that we’ve had before and the recommendations I think is something that will carry the day.

Reporter: (29:13)
[inaudible 00:29:13] at churches [inaudible 00:29:14] is that up from last time? How can that be happening [crosstalk 00:00:29:20]?

Lee Norman: (29:19)
I think that’s the same number as last time.

John: (29:21)
But the discussion here about hair and nail salons, a lot of those folks who run those businesses say they’re already doing that. They can keep their customer social distant before they get in the chair. They’re really frustrated that they can’t open, because some of them are sole proprietors and that’s their source of income. So what do you tell those folks? Because they’re like, we’re ready. We have to do this stuff already. We through so many hours of training [inaudible 00:02:55].

Laura Kelly: (29:55)
Yeah. John, I had a long conference call with the barber and cosmetology world talking about just that. And I recognize that they already have in some pretty strict industry standards just to be licensed to practice in that area. So yeah, we fully understand that.

Laura Kelly: (30:20)
But then there’s also the reality of yes, you can social distance, you can do all those things, but is your shop all set up to do that? Are you really ready to do that? And are you prepared to deal with the need to ramp it up because of the COVID virus?

Laura Kelly: (30:42)
The standards that they have in place have been there because that’s just their licensing requirement. This is going to require them really to take it up a notch and to be very conscientious and to put into place… A number of them will be putting in places where, one, you can’t be a walk in, you have to have an appointment. Two, you wait for your appointment in your car rather than coming in and sitting in the waiting room.

Laura Kelly: (31:09)
So they’ve got to put all of those things in. It will require signage. It will require a variety of things. So, I think that’s part of it. But the other part of it is just knowing that we can no longer maintain that six feet of social distancing. And we just want to see how this phase goes to make sure that by adding that factor, we’re not putting people at serious risk.

Lee Norman: (31:32)
And if I may add something to the [crosstalk 00:31:34] Governor. I walked into a store, I had a mask on, and I didn’t like the way it was being managed so I turned around and walked back out.

John: (31:43)
Governor, do you want the legislature to come back? And if so, in what form and how?

Laura Kelly: (31:48)
I miss them so much John, of course I want them to come back. I think the Legislative Coordinating Council will be meeting this afternoon at 3:00 and they will be making that decision and I’ll respect whatever decision they make.

Reporter: (32:03)
Secretary Lee, are we considering using any technology, such as cell phone and blue tooth technology, to do contact tracing?

Lee Norman: (32:09)
Yes, we’re looking at some of the, I believe it’s Google and Apple that are working together, and there’s a couple other ones that are contact tracing people, matter of fact, reported on today. When we get a little bit further down that road, we’ll talk about it. We realize also there’s some sensitivity about that. We’ve talked about the Unicast and the other things that are already out there and I will tell you I watch those and I pay attention to those, but it would be a particular benefit, for example, to receive a text when somebody that that person had come in contact with has tested positive. I personally think it’s a good idea.

Lee Norman: (32:47)
I know that there’s certain people that say this is an invasion of my privacy. We want to make sure that the technology is safe, it’s private, and it works and is helpful. So we’re looking into it.

Reporter: (32:58)
Thank you.

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