Kansas Gov. Kelly says federal response to COVID-19 is forcing states into ‘bidding war’

photo by: Associated Press

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions about attempting to check the spread of the new coronavirus during an interview with The Associated Press in her office, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on Monday issued perhaps her strongest rebuke of the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to spread across the globe.

As the number of confirmed cases increase, getting personal protective equipment to health care workers has become one of the most pressing needs in the United States. Kelly said Monday, without naming President Donald Trump, that the federal government’s lack of coordinated response to the pandemic has forced states into bidding wars for life saving supplies.

“We are never going to solve this problem if states are continually forced to bid against each other and against the federal government,” she said. “It’s creating widespread confusion, and it’s delaying every state’s response effort, including Kansas’.”

Those frustrations have been shared by other governors in recent days. Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo likened it to “being on eBay with 50 other states.” Over the weekend, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a press conference that his state would begin trying to band together with smaller states to procure supplies.

On Monday, Kelly said there are normally three ways states can get personal protective equipment. First is from the federal government’s Strategic National Stockpile — from which Kansas has already received its only shipment.

Second is to order supplies from FEMA — Kansas has requested 7 different shipments and received no supplies, Kelly said.

The third option is to purchase the supplies from various manufacturers. Kansas, Kelly said, has bought some necessary supplies, such as N95 masks, surgical gowns, gloves and hospital gowns.

But based on what the governor said the state has requested from FEMA, the Sunflower State is still missing millions of supplies it will need to most effectively fight the virus when it reaches its peak in the coming weeks.

To this point, Kansas has requested 260,000 testing supplies, 9.1 million gowns, 22.3 million gloves, 4.6 million N95 masks, 1.2 million face shields, and 10.7 million surgical masks.

They’ve received nothing.

“First responders are defenseless without masks, gowns and other gear to protect them from this highly contagious virus,” Kelly said.

The state Department of Health and Environment announced Monday that cumulative confirmed cases of the virus in Kansas jumped by nearly 100, or around 13.5%, since Sunday – from 747 to 845. The state confirmed three more COVID-19-related deaths, bringing the total to 25.

The 845 confirmed cases are out of 8,239 total tests, meaning 9.1% of tested Kansans have the virus. A week prior, on March 29, only 7% 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 last week began releasing more comprehensive data in its daily updates, which now include the testing rate in each of Kansas’ 105 counties. In Douglas County, 821 people have been tested either by the state or by private labs, and 36 cases have been confirmed positive. The testing rate, the department said, equates to 6.72 tests per 1,000 county residents. That’s the third-highest rate among all Kansas counties.

KDHE is also tracking hospitalization rates for cases where such information is available. The department said 198 of the 605 positive COVID-19 cases that are being tracked have resulted in hospitalization thus far — a 32.7% rate for applicable cases.

KDHE Secretary Lee Norman — who appears with Kelly for the daily briefing on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — said the state now has around 1,900 test kits on hand and is bringing on two new testing methods to produce more rapid results.

Ahead of the Easter holiday, Norman also cautioned people against going to crowded gatherings that could put themselves in danger. The state of Kansas has confirmed 11 clusters — or outbreaks — of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. Three of those were traced back to church gatherings, Norman said.

More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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