Kelly signs transportation plan, emphasizes economic recovery after pandemic passes; state’s death toll at 17

photo by: Associated Press

Dr. Lee Norman, left, Kansas secretary of health and environment, discusses the coronavirus pandemic during a news conference with Gov. Laura Kelly, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka.

Gov. Laura Kelly announced Friday that she signed a new $10 billion long-range transportation bill into law in the hopes of stimulating the state economy once the COVID-19 pandemic passes.

The law will create jobs through new transportation and infrastructure improvements, and Kelly said every one of the state’s 105 counties would see at least $8 million allocated for those improvements.

Economic recovery was a focal point of Kelly’s daily COVID-19 briefing on Friday. She touted a new job posting site on the state Department of Commerce website and encouraged small businesses across the state to be patient as they begin applying for federal relief programs.

As for what Kansas can control now, the new transportation plan is a start. Kelly praised legislators for passing the plan before adjourning for an extended recess.

“Its swift passage is important to help the Kansas economy recover when this public health pandemic passes,” she said.

Kelly also chided the Legislature for not passing Medicaid expansion years ago, saying it would have dramatically improved the state’s economic and social welfare during a health crisis like COVID-19. If lawmakers are able to return for the final portion of the session in late April, she urged them to expand Medicaid.

“The economic recovery from this is going to be long and hard,” she said. “Medicaid expansion going into effect in 2021 (would) help us in that area.”

Kelly’s briefing came shortly after the state Department of Health and Environment announced that cumulative confirmed cases of the virus in Kansas jumped about 12.5% since Thursday – from 552 to 620 — and the state confirmed four more COVID-19-related deaths, bringing the total to 17.

The 620 confirmed cases are out of 7,074 total tests, meaning 8.8% of tested Kansans have tested positive for the virus. A week prior, on March 27, only 5.8% of all tests returned positive.

Those numbers should be taken with the caveat that new research in recent days out of China, where the virus originated in late 2019, suggests that COVID-19 testing can have a 30% false-negative testing rate. American medical experts have suggested to national media outlets that number could be even higher.

KDHE on Wednesday began releasing more comprehensive data in its daily updates, which now include the testing rate in each of Kansas’ 105 counties. In Douglas County, 724 people have been tested either by the state or by private labs, and 31 cases have been confirmed positive. The testing rate, the department said, equates to 5.92 tests per 1,000 county residents. That’s the second-highest testing rate among all Kansas counties.

Kansans should expect testing numbers to increase in the coming weeks, secretary Lee Norman said Friday. The state has long struggled to obtain the adequate supplies to test for the virus, but it recently received 900 new rapid test kits that deliver results in 45 minutes. Norman previously said Kansas is expecting to receive 64,000 rapid test kits as more supplies become available.

“This will ultimately help us to do more population testing and not just (test) ill people,” he said.

KDHE is also tracking hospitalization rates for cases where such information is available. The department said 151 of the 446 positive COVID-19 cases that are being tracked have resulted in hospitalization thus far — a 33.9% rate for applicable cases.

Norman concluded his remarks Friday by again encouraging Kansas residents to practice social distancing and stay home whenever possible to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“We cannot let up on social distancing and stay-at-home (practices),” he said.

More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As the pandemic continues, the Journal-World will be making coverage of COVID-19 available outside of the paywall on

Find all coverage of city, county and state responses to the virus at:

Please consider subscribing to support the local journalists who are helping to inform our community:


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.