Kansas residents hunker down amid virus’ economic fallout
photo by: AP File Photo
Story updated at 3:47 p.m. Tuesday
WICHITA — Aircraft parts maker Spirit Aerosystems temporarily suspended production work for Boeing at its Wichita facility on Tuesday amid the coronavirus outbreak that has been sending shock waves through the economy and has more than half of Kansas residents under shelter-in-place orders.
The move came after Boeing announced Monday that it was suspending operations at its Seattle-area facilities.
Gov. Laura Kelly announced Monday that she was limiting public gatherings to 10 people or fewer, after originally instituting a 50-person cap. She said she wasn’t issuing a statewide shelter-in-place order as some other governors have done because 89 of Kansas’ 105 counties had yet to see a confirmed coronavirus case as of Monday morning. But she warned that such an order could become “unavoidable in the coming days.”
On Tuesday, Sedgwick County became the sixth in Kansas to order residents to stay at home except for essential business, such as to buy food or seek medical care. The orders mean more than half of the state’s 2.9 million residents are under stay-at-home orders. The other counties are Johnson County, which is the state’s most populous county; three other neighboring counties in or touching the Kansas City area; and Douglas County, which is home to the main University of Kansas campus.
Sedgwick County, which includes the state’s largest city of Wichita, announced Tuesday that it is imposing a similar order starting at 12:10 a.m. Wednesday for at least 30 days.
Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple thanked Sedgwick County officials for taking a step that he said might not be politically popular but is the right thing to do. He compared the virus outbreak to dealing with severe weather.
“We have a storm coming, we need to bunker down right now and make sure we are keeping ourselves safe,” Whipple said. “We’re going to get through this and be better. But for right now, this storm is coming.”
A seventh county, Doniphan County in the state’s northeast corner, also was imposing a stay-at-home order starting Thursday and lasting through April 6.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment confirmed on Tuesday the state has 98 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. It has two COVID-19-related deaths, one in Johnson County and the other in Wyandotte County in the Kansas City area.
Wyandotte County had the most reported cases in the state with 22, followed by Johnson County with 36 cases. Sedgwick and Leavenworth counties each had seven cases.
The agency also announced on Tuesday that Kansas WIC program participants and new applicants will be able to receive benefits without having to be physically present. Staff will assess and certify remotely applicants for the nutrition program for low-income pregnant women, infants and children. The waiver expires May 31, unless extended.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness.
Tyson Foods said in an email Tuesday that all of its meatpacking plants were operating because it is considered critical infrastructure. As a precaution, though, the company said it was taking workers’ temperatures before they enter U.S. facilities and making changes to its disability and other benefits so that workers can receive pay while they’re home sick with the flu or COVID-19.
The Wyandotte County district attorney’s office sought to reassure immigrants who are in the country illegally, saying in a news release that they won’t be arrested or detained for seeking medical help.