TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas officials are looking for extra hospital beds, releasing jail inmates and bracing for a slump in state tax collections as they add farmers' and ranchers' springtime practice of burning pastures to the list of things to avoid during the coronavirus pandemic.
With confirmed coronavirus cases having almost quadrupled over the past week, more than 1.7 million of the state's 2.9 million residents are facing local stay-at-home orders. That's taking an economic toll, and the state has seen a huge jump in claims of unemployment benefits.
Coronavirus-related developments Thursday in Kansas:
The state has at least 168 confirmed coronavirus cases, an increase of 42 since Wednesday alone. There have been three deaths since March 11.
At least 14 counties have issued stay-at-home orders, covering more than 1.8 million of the state's 2.9 million residents, or 62%.
The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people but can cause a severe illness for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems.
JAIL INMATES RELEASED
In the Wichita area, about 200 inmates have been released from the Sedgwick County Jail since mid-March over concerns about the coronavirus. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett told The Wichita Eagle that the goal is to give the Sedgwick County Jail “breathing room” so it has enough space to isolate inmates who might fall ill in the coming weeks.
With 600 movie theaters across the U.S. closed, Leawood-based AMC Theatres has furloughed its entire corporate staff of about 400 people, The Kansas City Star reported.
Gov. Laura Kelly said in an interview that economic fallout is likely “hitting already” for state tax collections. She also postponed the state's income tax filing deadline to July 15 from April 15, delaying big collections that come in the spring.
State officials and university economists issue a new fiscal forecast for state government on April 20 that's expected to be more pessimistic about revenues.
But there was some good news Thursday, at least for auto workers in the Kansas City area: Ford Motor Co. announced that it plans to reopen its plant in Claycomo, Missouri, on April 14.
BURNING HALT SOUGHT
The state health department and the Kansas Department of Agriculture urged land owners and managers to reduce the number of acres of pasture they burn this spring because of the coronavirus outbreak. Dr. Lee Norman, the state's health secretary, said officials want to lessen the chances of people developing other respiratory ailments that would send them to overstressed hospitals.
LOOKING FOR BEDS
Norman said a health department team is talking to U.S. Veterans Administration officials about the possibility of moving all patients from the state's three VA hospitals into one hospital to free up VA beds for coronavirus patients.
He said the state also is talking with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about reconfiguring existing buildings to create alternative care sites. The Corps posted an online notice Thursday asking construction firms in Kansas and Missouri to provide information about whether they're interested in such work.
REPORT CLOSES CENTER
Call center operator Maximus on Monday closed one of its buildings in Lawrence because an employee reported testing positive for COVID-19. But the company said in a statement Thursday that the employee later acknowledged there was no test, and disciplinary action is being taken for an abuse of an enhanced paid leave policy meant to keep employees paid if they are quarantined or must care for a sick family member.
The company has between 1,500 and 2,000 employees working at two buildings in a Lawrence business park. Only one building was shut down, but it reopened Thursday after being sanitized, the company said.
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