UPDATED: Governor issues statewide stay-at-home order

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Making a “difficult but unavoidable decision,” Gov. Laura Kelly on Saturday announced a statewide stay-at-home order as she steps up her efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The governor’s order starts at 12:01 a.m. Monday, March 30, and will last until at least through April 19.

“I know this is hard,” Kelly said, “and I can’t tell you how much I wish it weren’t necessary.

“But this is our window to ensure Kansas doesn’t suffer the terrible fate of other hard-hit states,” she said.

Kelly wants to bring consistency to the stay-at-home orders issued by at least 20 counties across Kansas now covering more than half the state’s population.

“As governor, I left these decisions to local health departments for as long as possible,” Kelly said.

“The reality is that the patchwork approach that has developed is inconsistent and is a recipe for confusion in our statewide fight to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Statewide uniformity will ensure we’re all playing by the same rules and it would help prevent an influx of new cases.”

The governor’s order instructs Kansans to stay at home except when engaged in these activities:

  • Obtaining food, medicine and other household necessities.
  • Going to and from work at a business or organization that performs an essential function. 
  • Seeking medical care.
  • Caring for children, family members, pets, or for a vulnerable person in another location.
  • Outdoor activity, provided individuals maintain a distance of 6 feet from one another and abide by the 10-person limit on mass gatherings.

“We don’t want to set up a martial-law state,” Kelly said. “We are encouraging Kansans to abide by these guidelines and do what needs to be done.”

The state’s stay-at-home order overrides the local orders issued county by county.

Kansas Chamber of Commerce President Alan Cobb said the governor’s order provides clear guidance to businesses, especially those with operations in different counties.

The multiple orders across different counties, Cobb said, made it difficult for companies to operate without knowing for sure what was considered an essential business.

The governor’s order, Cobb said, “gives certainty on essential business operations so employers and employees can continue to operate and be productive.”

Kelly said the statewide stay-at-home order is one more step in an aggressive effort to slow down the spread of the virus, which is now expected to reach 900 cases within the next week.

As of Saturday, there were 261 cases statewide, up from 202 on Friday and 55 a week ago.

There have been cases confirmed in 31 of the state’s 105 counties, including Gove County in northwest Kansas.

“Positive cases are appearing everywhere at this point, not just Johnson, Wyandotte and Sedgwick counties,” Kelly said.

Kelly said state health officials believe there are more cases of the coronavirus than have been confirmed to date, including in parts of the state where a case has not been identified.

Kelly said that restrictions on movement will help contain the spread of the virus and give hospitals across the state the chance to brace for the anticipated flood of patients.

“By limiting movement and keeping disease numbers down across the state, we can better protect our hospitals, especially our smaller and rural hospitals,” Kelly said.

Kelly’s order would make Kansas among about two dozen states that have imposed stay-at-home orders covering about half of the country’s population.

The Kansas order comes nine days after California became the first state to put in place mandatory stay-at-home restrictions to help combat the coronavirus.

Stay-at-home orders cover an estimated 225 million people nationally, including roughly 2.8 million people in Kansas.

Other Midwestern states with stay-at-home orders include Minnesota, Michigan, Colorado, Illinois and Montana.

The governor’s stay-at-home order must be reviewed by the legislative leadership on the Legislative Coordinating Council.

Republican House leadership issued a statement pledging to evaluate the order. The LCC has three days to review the order.

“Over the coming days we will consult with the attorney general, health care professionals, the business community, and the state’s emergency management team to make sure we are on the right path,” said the statement issued by House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., Majority Leader Dan Hawkins and House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch.

“There are no easy decisions in a time like this, and we must diligently work together to strike a balance that is in the best interests of all Kansans,” the House leadership said.

Senate President Susan Wagle, now running for the U.S. Senate, questioned what she called the governor’s “one-size-fits-all solution” to dealing with the public health crisis.

“We are not like coastal states and our efforts must be specific to the needs of Kansans,” Wagle said.

“I want to assure Kansans, particularly those in rural areas, the legislature is actively working to thoroughly review the governor’s order and ensure the specific needs of rural Kansans are addressed,” she said.