I started this newsletter about a week ago and have rewritten it multiple times in an effort to capture the most recent news about our state’s rapidly changing response to COVID-19.
The state government, like all of us as individuals, is learning and reacting quickly to this public health emergency that results in illness, quarantines and school and business closings that are leading to lost wages and financial hardship for Kansans.
The bottom line is that securing the health, safety and economic well-being of Kansas residents and visitors is the state government’s top priority. Taking appropriate steps and making smart adjustments means that the situation will remain fluid, so you will hear from me with regular updates.
Here’s the latest as we know it:
• Recommendations and guidelines about staying healthy and maintaining social distance
Washing our hands vigorously with soap and hot water frequently and for at least 20 seconds, covering our mouths when coughing and avoiding all situations in which you or others can spread the virus are important preventive measures, regardless of which virus is circulating.
Social distancing — a term that was not in my vocabulary a month ago — is key to containing COVID-19, and to ensuring that our hospitals and other health care organizations are not overwhelmed by its impact. It means staying at home as much as you can and, when you can’t, maintaining a distance of 6-10 feet between you and any other person.
To that end, Gov. Kelly issued an executive order temporarily banning all public or private mass gatherings. Read that order at governor.kansas.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/20-04-Executed.pdf. It refers to gatherings of 50 or more people, but keep in mind that the federal government now recommends that we avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.
Dr. Lee Norman, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, has been releasing fact sheets and short video updates about the virus and the measures that Kansas is implementing to control its spread. Find those updates, which I find to be factual and up-to-date, at www.kdheks.gov/coronavirus/index. I hope the information is useful to you and your families.
As Dr. Norman and other experts point out, you may have mild symptoms or not feel sick, yet you still may carry the virus and infect others, especially people in high-risk groups, including those with compromised immune systems — such as patients on chemotherapy — the elderly or young children with chronic diseases. Take care of yourselves and keep the needs of your fellow citizens in mind, and we can manage through this pandemic.
• Social distancing: closings and postponements
The cancelation of sports, cultural and civic events, while often deeply disappointing to participants and fans, is among necessary steps to contain COVID-19.
Along the same lines, our Capitol building currently is closed to all visitors except those that have legislative business, such as testifying about a bill.
Closing K-12 public schools in Kansas for the remainder of the academic year is another necessary step to slow the spread of the disease. Read the governor’s executive order about school closures at governor.kansas.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/EO-20-07-Executed.pdf.
Schools are the backbone of our communities, but their continued operation also would significantly further the spread of COVID-19.
Teachers, administrators and the Kansas State Board of Education are working together to formulate remote learning plans to help ensure that our students can graduate on time without being in a school building. Obviously, those plans will differ based on grade level, internet availability and other factors. Educators and school staff members also are planning for continued availability of school lunches and, in some cases, availability and extension of what we have come to know as after-school care. We know that those services are a lifeline for many children and their families. Watch for information about all that from your local school district.
There is no doubt that closing schools will disrupt the lives of students and families across our state. Proms, graduation ceremonies and other important events are up in the air — a heartbreaking situation. But our students are resilient, and experts are working to help them through this.
• Economic impact
Both the federal government and our state government have issued emergency declarations, which open access to emergency funds and other aid to help us through the pandemic.
Gov. Kelly also issued an executive order that cuts through red tape at the local level, allowing city councils to effectively, efficiently help their citizens in ways that make sense. Read that order at governor.kansas.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/20-03-Executed.pdf.
Importantly, the governor also issued orders that temporarily prohibit utility or internet disconnects and also prohibit foreclosures and evictions — no one in Kansas will be kicked out of their home or lose electricity, gas, water or internet service while the state of emergency exists. Read those orders at governor.kansas.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/20-05-Executed.pdf, and governor.kansas.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/20-06-Executed.pdf.
• Judging the government response
There is a tendency to judge the actions taken by government officials in response to the pandemic. Some believe it’s too little while others say it’s overblown.
The fact is that viruses are very small organisms. The period at the end of this sentence could contain as many as 18,000 viruses. The speed of transmission among humans can vary, but the key is to somehow break the chain of infection so fewer people become infected. The graphics in a recent Washington Post story illustrate that fact: www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/corona-simulator.
For many years now, we have had access to a vaccine that controls the spread of influenza. That vaccine doesn’t prevent all forms of the flu, but it does prevent a series of infections from running amok. We do not have a vaccine to help prevent COVID-19 and, despite accelerated efforts, we may not have one for a year or more. Thus the only way to prevent or reduce the spread of the pandemic is to isolate ourselves, wash our hands and cover our mouths when coughing. Simple procedures, but we are learning how very disruptive they are on a regional and national level.
• Avoiding conspiracy theories, speculation and false information
Recently, I have heard some people opine that they believe COVID-19 is a hoax initiated by a nefarious group. Let me clearly say, that is baloney!
Pandemic viruses have been around for centuries. They happen. Everyone’s goal should be to prevent the spread of this virus, not to buy into conspiracy theories. Panic is fueled by speculation and false information. Please don’t be a part of this. Seek out respected and informed sources, such as the Kansas Department of Health and Environment website I mentioned above or the Center for Disease Control website, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.
• Context during this unsettling time
“The Great Influenza,” a book by John M. Barry, documents the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed about 50 million people worldwide and precipitated the creation of the US Public Health Service.
World War I was being fought at the same time, so huge parades and other civic events were common throughout the country to help promote the selling of war bonds, which helped to fund the war effort. At the time, politicians felt the influenza outbreak was not serious enough to quarantine people or cancel those parades and events. They were wrong, and hundreds of thousands of Americans died because of it. The last page of the book summarizes a key point.
“So the final lesson of 1918, a simple one yet the one most difficult to execute, is that those who occupy positions of authority must lessen the panic that can alienate the members of a society. A society that takes as its motto, ‘every man for himself’ is no longer a civilized society. Those in authority must retain the public’s trust. The way to do that is to distort nothing, to put the best face on nothing, to try to manipulate no one. Lincoln said that first, and best: A leader must make whatever horror exists concrete. Only then will people be able to break it apart.”
• Rising to the Challenge
As the pandemic-control measures become stricter and more disruptive, I worry about the loss of jobs, the business closings and the uncertainty the situation brings.
We will suffer severe consequences from the pandemic. But the alternative is darker still.
Whenever I begin to get a bit morose about the consequences, I look back to my parents’ experiences. They were 6 years old when the Great Depression hit, followed almost immediately by the Dust Bowl years, then World War II. They watched good people lose farms or businesses. From the stories they told, I can’t imagine the loneliness and defeat many of them felt.
But they supported one another, their friends and even strangers. If anything good comes from this pandemic, it will have to be that we all come together for a common purpose. We cannot survive otherwise.
You’ll hear from me again soon with more news and legislative updates. In the meantime, you are welcome to contact me to ask questions or express your views. I welcome your feedback and am honored to represent you.
COVID-19 is contagious. But so are generosity, patience and hope. Let’s catch those.