TOPEKA, Kan. — Leaders of the Republican-controlled Kansas Legislature were considering whether to revoke Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s statewide stay-at-home order that was set to take effect Monday as she tries to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The Legislature’s top seven leaders, five of them Republicans, planned to convene by teleconference Sunday afternoon to review Kelly’s order. They set the meeting a day after the governor issued her order for the state’s 2.9 million residents.
State health officials said Sunday that Kansas has 319 cases in 35 of the state’s 105 counties and six COVID-19-related deaths. The number of confirmed cases grew by 58 from Saturday.
Nearly two dozen other states have stay-at-home orders in place, and Kelly waited until at least 25 counties issued their own orders, including the state’s most populous ones. Those orders cover more than 2.1 million people, or 73% of the state’s residents. Hers would be in force until April 19.
Lawmakers gave their leaders the power to overturn Kelly’s coronavirus orders in a resolution extending a state of emergency Kelly declared March 12 until at least May 1. Had lawmakers not passed the resolution, the state of emergency would have expired Thursday, potentially jeopardizing federal aid.
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.
“Our state has varying economic concerns and differing population bases,” Wagle said in a statement. “We are not like coastal states.”
State law gives the governor broad authority to deal with emergencies but allows the Legislature to revoke emergency declarations, though there’s not been a case in recent memory of them seeking to do so. Some GOP conservatives were upset with Kelly’s order on March 17 that closed the state’s K-12 schools for the rest of the semester.
President Donald Trump has said he wants to reopen the U.S. economy by Easter, and in Kansas, some GOP lawmakers worry about destroying small businesses. They’ve also said they want to prevent abuses of power in an emergency that could last weeks, just as some in the U.S. have said state and federal governments are trampling on freedoms central to American life in the name of protecting public health.
University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller said GOP lawmakers’ relationship with Kelly is “uniquely dysfunctional.” It has often been strained since she took office in January 2019.
“If you have someone in your life that you have a strained relationship with, you don’t all of a sudden do a 180 and that relationship changes overnight,” Miller said.
Top Republicans’ willingness to push back on Kelly’s actions frustrated Dr. Beth Oller, a family-practice physician in Stockton in northwest Kansas. Her home county, Rooks County, issued a stay-at-home order for its 5,000 residents, effective Saturday, before having a confirmed case of the virus.
Oller said it’s almost certain that more people have the coronavirus than the state has reported because of limited testing. She called pushing back on Kelly’s actions “exceptionally short-sighted” because, “We haven’t come close to seeing the peak.”
“The only way that you flatten the curve effectively is by doing something before it gets bad,” she said. “Do they not understand? Look at Kansas City. Yes, it’s a denser population. Yes it’s already there, but all they have to do over the last three days is watch how it has marched west.”
For most people, the new 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.
As it has elsewhere, the number of confirmed cases in Kansas has doubled roughly every three days. The coronavirus has spread geographically since being confirmed in the Kansas City area on March 13.
Kelly said Saturday that Kansas could have as many as 900 coronavirus cases by the end of this week. She said steps she and local officials have taken have slowed its spread but, “they’re not enough.”
“Positive cases are appearing everywhere at this point,” she said.