FAQ: What We Know So Far About COVID-19 In Kansas

15 hours ago

The U.S. has more than 180,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more than 3,000 deaths. The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

With so much information and disinformation out there about the novel coronavirus, we’ve compiled information about what we know so far, and try to answer (some) of the frequently asked questions about the current outbreak.

We’ll be updating this page daily as more information becomes available. Other valuable websites for you to stay informed include:

Have any questions you want to see answered here by one of KMUW’s reporters? Send us an email at news@kmuw.org.

What is the coronavirus?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines coronaviruses as "a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases."

The “novel coronavirus” is the seventh known coronavirus the U.S. has dealt with, says Dr. Margaret Hagan with Infectious Disease Consultants in Wichita. Four strains are mild and basically cause the common cold. One strain causes the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that broke out in 2002; another causes the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a more severe illness that broke out in 2012.

The most recent strain of the coronavirus can lead to Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19. Symptoms include shortness of breath, fever and coughing.

How many cases of COVID-19 are in Kansas?

As of April 1, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment had confirmed 482 cases, including 10 deaths. 

The Cowley County public health department on Wednesday announced its first confirmed case, but the number hasn't been added to the state's list yet.   

Two cases also were reported in Ford and Miami counties, but in patients from other states. Their cases are being included in their home state counts, KDHE says. 

More than 5,400 other people have tested negative for COVID-19.

How does the virus spread, and who’s at risk of getting it?

Coronaviruses spread primarily through respiratory droplets — like through coughing and sneezing, says Sedgwick County epidemiologist Kaylee Hervey. Anyone can be at risk of infection; those most at risk from COVID-19, though, are the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes and lung disease. 

She says much as 80 percent of people who are infected (and infectious) won’t exhibit any symptoms.

“That in a sense makes it more dangerous than the flu in that asymptotic people may be spreading it,” she told a recent Engage ICT: Democracy On Tap panel.

I think I might be infected. How do I get tested?

You can’t just go to a doctor’s office and ask to be tested. A health professional will need to determine whether you qualify — and even if your doctor determines you should be tested, it doesn’t mean it’ll happen.

“It’s only when you develop symptoms that you want to get tested,” says Sedgwick County epidemiologist Kaylee Hervey.

Sedgwick County currently has two confirmed cases of COVID-19, and the region isn’t experiencing community spread (i.e., when you can’t easily link an infection back to someone), so the chances that your cough or runny nose is COVID-19 are low.

But if you are experiencing symptoms and think you may have been exposed to the coronavirus, contact your regular doctor to discuss whether testing might be needed. (Don’t show up unannounced, say health care providers.)

If you don’t have a regular doctor, Wesley Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Lowell Ebersole says you can visit one of the hospital’s facilities for screening — but again, call ahead first.

Here's what KU Med's infections disease expert says to do if you feel sick.

Though here in Kansas testing was being done solely through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Sedgwick County public health director Adrienne Byrne said Wednesday two private labs in the county now have the capability to conduct testing with results available within the same day.

While state-run tests are done at no cost to the patient, it’s unclear if or how much the private labs will charge. 

How do we prevent the spread of the virus? Should we all just stay home?

That's what Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly wants people to do. 

On Saturday, she issued a statewide stay-at-home order effective Monday, March 30, through at least April 19. Kansas is one of at least 20 states to ask residents to stay home except for essential business. The executive order supersedes earlier orders issued in several counties, including Sedgwick, Sumner and Reno. 

For those stores that are open, many are offering special hours for residents 60 years or older.

  • Target, Wednesdays 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.
  • CVS, Wednesdays 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.
  • Walgreens, Tuesdays 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.
  • Dollar General, every day 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.
  • Sam's Club, Tuesday and Thursday 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
  • Whole Foods, every day 7 a.m. to 8 a.m.
  • Walmart, Tuesdays 6 a.m. to 7 a.m.
  • Dillons, Monday, Wednesday and Friday 7 a.m. to 8 a..m.
  • Aldis, Tuesday and Thursday 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
  • Trader Joe's, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.
  • Costco Wholesale, Tuesday and Thursday 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.
  • Big Lots, every day 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Sedgwick County Health Director Adrienne Byrne says the coronavirus has reached the threshold for community spread in the county, meaning health officials have identified five or more cases of COVID-19 that can't be traced back to travel or to someone who has tested positive.

What have schools done in response?

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has ordered all K-12 schools to close for the rest of the year. Individual school districts are spending the next week assessing technology needs and developing lesson plans for when school is back in session on March 30. A state task force report recommends limited screen time and less than three hours a day of learning time

On Wednesday, 18 sites around Kansas will begin providing free to-go meals for kids while schools are closed. Wichita Transit will provide free rides to the sites.

Meanwhile, several of the state's colleges and universities are finishing their semesters online. 

Wichita State University, Kansas State University, University of Kansas and Fort Hays State University all announced they would teach online classes only for the rest of the semester. All of them had planned to shift to online classes beginning March 30 and then re-evaluate whether to resume in-person classes at some point.

K-State also has canceled commencement ceremonies while WSU has indefinitely postponed its spring commencement. KU says it plans to hold graduation ceremonies as scheduled on May 17, although it would explore other options if health concerns remain an issue.

Newman University, Friends University and Pittsburg State also extended their spring break through March 29. Both moved to an online format on March 30.