Kansas’ top health official says the coronavirus inevitably will spread into the state and that his agency is prepared to mitigate the outcome.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment secretary Lee Norman said the agency has monitored the novel virus, also known as COVID-19, since December. Infections initially were diagnosed in Wuhan City, China, and now have been reported in 60 locations internationally, including cases in the United States.
In terms of the virus’ impact, Europe was about a month behind China, Norman said, and the United States is about a month behind Europe.
"Really, it's just a matter of time until we have a positive case in Kansas," Norman said. "We're seeing so much on the coast now starting to crop up now, and in the Midwest in the larger airports."
He joined Gov. Laura Kelly and Kansas Adjutant General Lee Tafanelli in a news conference Wednesday to assure Kansans they are safe and that government officials were working together at all levels to mitigate the impact of the virus.
"Our primary objective here is to minimize the number of COVID-19 cases we have and minimize any impact that may occur as a result of it," Tafanelli said. "One of the things we say with all emergency situations and all disasters, they start local and they end local."
The officials announced that the KDHE lab in Topeka is among the first to be certified by the Centers for Disease Control to test possible cases of the virus. Additionally, the agency has launched an online resource center at www.kdheks.gov/coronavirus.
There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in Kansas so far. Norman said the KDHE lab, which has the capacity to test up to 60 individuals per day for the virus, reduced testing time from five days to six hours.
"I can tell you for the caregivers involved, and especially for the people that are closest involved, their family members, a four- to six-hour turnaround is just a godsend," Norman said.
The CDC sends the state a list of 12-50 people daily who have traveled to Kansas from areas where coronavirus infections have been documented, Norman said, so officials can track the risk.
Kelly said the best ways for Kansans to protect themselves from the coronavirus is to use good hygiene and stay home if they aren’t feeling well.
"It sounds simple, and it is," Kelly said. "But it's also effective."
The KDHE resource center provides answers to frequently asked questions and other helpful information, such as where to avoid travel.
Those who recently traveled to China, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea is encouraged to contact a healthcare provider if they develop a fever, cough and shortness of breath.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said the Senate is committed to working with Kelly to ensure proper resources and support are available.
"I appreciate the prompt and thorough briefing given by Gov. Kelly's administration as the state prepares to address the possible outbreak of the coronavirus," Wagle said. "I am pleased to learn she is in constant communication with Vice President Mike Pence and the Trump administration."
Also on Wednesday, congressional leaders reached a deal to provide $8 billion in emergency spending to combat the coronavirus.
"This package will fully fund a robust response to coronavirus, including vaccine and treatment development, support for state, local and tribal governments — which are our first line of defense — and assistance for affected small businesses," said U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat from the 3rd District. "Importantly, it helps to prevent price-gouging and ensures that vaccines and treatments for coronavirus are affordable and accessible."
U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, a Republican from the 1st District, said the bill will provide for the fastest possible development of vaccine treatments.
"I recognize the importance of having the proper tools and resources in place for states and local communities and will continue to stay in close contact with the White House and all agencies responsible for controlling the spread of this disease," Marshall said.