TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — All 2.9 million Kansas residents were under a stay-at-home order today imposed by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly as the numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and COVID-19-related deaths continue to grow.
Kansas joins nearly two dozen states in ordering residents to stay at home. The Kansas order was effective at 12:01 a.m. today and runs through April 19.
“As governor I left the decision to local health departments for as long as possible,” Kelly said. She called the current “patchwork” of local orders problematic and said she believes the statewide order was necessary because Kansas “isn’t ready for the peak” of the pandemic.
Kelly, a Democrat, issued the order for Kansas’ 2.9 million residents after at least 25 counties, including all of the state’s most populous ones, issued their own stay-at-home orders. Kelly said the new order supersedes the local orders.
The order directs people to stay at home except for essential business such as trips to the grocery store or to get medical care. Outdoor exercise is allowed as long as social distancing is maintained, Kelly said.
“You can leave your house. You can still go outside. You are not under house arrest,” Kelly said.
It helped Kelly’s case with the Republican-controlled Legislature that the exceptions in her order for “essential” outside-the-home activities include religious worship and buying, selling and manufacturing guns and ammunition. Other exceptions allow people to buy food and get medical care.
The Legislature’s top seven leaders, five of them Republicans, have the power to revoke her orders but no one spoke against her stay-at-home directive during a meeting of top lawmakers Sunday. That allowed the order to take effect early today. It is to remain in force until at least April 19.
“You always want to balance your safety with rights,” said House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a Republican from Olathe in Johnson County, which has more than 100 confirmed cases. “We’re continually trying to thread a needle.”
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce said it worked with Kelly’s office to “develop this more uniform approach,” which it says will help “flatten the curve” and provide “consistent supply chain operations for the delivery of groceries, medical supplies and other vital products,” according to an article from the Kansas News Service.
State health officials said Sunday that Kansas has 319 cases in 35 of the state’s 105 counties, with the number growing from Saturday by 58, or 22%. State and local officials have reported seven COVID-19-related deaths, with the latest a man in his 90s, according to The Kansas City Star.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, the state’s emergency management director, told the legislative leaders that the stay-at-home order is “the best thing we can do.”
Lawmakers gave their leaders the power to overturn Kelly’s coronavirus orders in a resolution extending a state of emergency Kelly declared on March 12 until at least May 1 instead of allowing it to expire Thursday.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican and U.S. Senate candidate who frequently criticizes Kelly, said Saturday that she was worried about a “one size fits all” approach in dealing with the coronavirus’ spread.
But after Sunday’s meeting, she said in a statement, “We are in this fight together.”
Kelly’s relationship with top Republicans has often been strained since she took office in January 2019. Democrats have said her GOP predecessors didn’t face the same pushback when confronting disasters.
“I’m glad they didn’t do anything crazy, but I was certainly concerned about it,” said House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat.
Ryckman said requiring a review of Kelly’s orders wasn’t about partisan politics but keeping in place the normal checks and balances in state government.