Kansas legislators will use remote meetings to prepare for COVID-19-related session

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, February 2014.

Mission — Kansas lawmakers are turning to virtual meetings to prepare for an upcoming session aimed at dealing with the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, as researchers examine the state’s wastewater to look for clues about how the virus is spreading.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican, announced Friday that the virtual meetings, which will be broadcast live on the Legislature’s YouTube channel, can begin before the Legislature reconvenes on May 21.

“We’re going to take care of COVID-related legislation that legitimately serves the best interests of our families, our first responders and our economy,” Ryckman said.

Among the issues that committees are discussing are the allocation of federal relief funding and the Kansas Department of Labor’s dated information technology infrastructure, which has been overwhelmed by the surge in unemployment claims.

Work ongoing on wastewater tests

The virus, which is shed through urine and feces, doesn’t survive in wastewater, and drinking water remains safe. But looking for its genetic material can help health officials determine how widespread it is in their communities.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is working with the University of Kansas School of Engineering on the effort. The university first announced the effort on May 4, the Journal-World previously reported.

Genetic material from the virus was found in 10 of 12 wastewater plants that were studied last month, the department said in a news release Friday. Researchers, however, weren’t able to use the data to make estimates of the extent of infection in those communities.

“There is much more we need to refine in the methodology to assure quality control and that will start with further testing of samples,” said Tom Stiles, KDHE’s Bureau of Water director. “We don’t know how quantitative this approach can be, but we are hoping it gives us a means to corroborate our COVID testing of individuals, particularly in counties where positive cases have been low.”

The health department reported Friday that the state had 6,501 confirmed or probable cases of coronavirus, and a Johns Hopkins University site lists the number of deaths for Kansas as 168. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.


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