Kansas tops 200 cases of coronavirus COVID-19; Sedgwick County now ‘community spread’

Kansas has passed the 200 mark for coronavirus cases with Sedgwick County now accounting for roughly a tenth of them, state and county officials reported Friday.

The state death toll also rose overnight from three to four, all in the Kansas City metropolitan area, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment

In daily reports, KDHE listed 202 cases. Sedgwick County reported that 21 positive test results have been gathered from its residents.

The county also announced Friday that Sedgwick County has officially reached the point of “community spread,” meaning the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus is primarily being passed from resident to resident.

Early cases had been mostly imported by travelers and came in from other states and countries where the virus is more prevalent, or from internationally flagged cruise ships.

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“Since this is a new and ever-evolving issue, there’s not like a best practice for COVID-19 of when you decide you have community spread,” said Health Director Adrienne Byrne. “We define community spread as five or more cases that are not related to travel and we are at that threshold now.”

No one knows where those COVID-19 patients came in contact with the coronavirus, Byrne said.

“We know they haven’t traveled and . . . we know they’ve not been around someone that we’ve tested that is positive,” Byrne said.

While five community cases may seem a small number, health officials have emphasized that it’s believed to be a small fraction of cases that actually exist in the community, which a week ago was estimated by hospital officials to be possibly 1,000.

KDHE Secretary Lee Norman said he would like to have enough testing capacity to do random sampling to get a better idea of Kansas’ real infection rates. But under current guidelines, state testing is limited mainly to first responders and health-care workers who show COVID-19-like symptoms and persons who require hospitalization or live in nursing homes.

“Where are the cases we don’t know about?” Norman said.

Norman said Friday that the virus has apparently struck his own family.

His son, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, has been ill for five days but “is doing fine.” Norman said his son has not been officially tested due to a shortage of supplies in New York.

“They don’t even test anybody now because they all have it,” Norman said. “Anybody that’s sick has coronavirus. The streets are empty.”

Norman said Kansas faces a different situation because it’s not as densely populated as New York City and because of local shelter-in-place orders in larger metropolitan areas around the state that seek to minimize the spread of the virus before it surpassed the health-care system’s ability to deal with it.

The coronavirus is expected to peak in Kansas around April 24, Norman said Friday. That date is based on a forecast by University of Washington researchers, he said.

Harvey County, which touches Sedgwick County to the north, reported its first case on Thursday night.

The infected person is a man in his 20s who is home in isolation, Harvey County officials said in a news release.

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Contributing: Michael Stavola of The Eagle

Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.
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