TOPEKA, Kan. (KWCH) Gov. Laura Kelly held a press conference on Wednesday from Topeka to address the growing concerns on what the state is doing to protect Kansans amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Kelly was joined by Dr. Lee Norman, the secretary for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli with the Kansas Department of Emergency Management.
"Our top priorities are to ensure that Kansans are safe and that their government is working together at the local, state and federal level," said Kelly.
The governor said with the virus being so new, Kansans have many questions and there's a lot of misinformation out there.
KDHE launched an online resource center at http://www.kdheks.gov/coronavirus/ to help provide answers to those questions. Kelly said the webpage will be updated continually as new information and videos as it comes in.
The governor said while a few Kansans have undergone precautionary testing for COVID-19, all of the tests have come back negative. Kansas currently has no positive cases of the virus.
While the risk remains low for the state, Dr. Norman said it's not a question of if COVID-19 will reach Kansas but being prepared when it does.
"We're seeing so much on the coasts now starting to crop up and in the midwest in the larger airports," said Norman. "I think one of the things is really important and we start to look toward the future and what will this eventually look like and how do we bridge the gap between where we are now and where we could be with some positive cases."
Norman said the virus is new, but the process of how it's managed is not. He said the state has set up incident commands similar to its response to other viruses such as H1N1 and Ebola.
Norman said he has been monitoring COVID-19 since it first came up in China, and KDHE participates regularly on calls with the CDC and remains in contact with local health departments and county emergency management.
"(Our) primary objective is to minimize the number of cases and impact," said Tafanelli.
Kansas is also one of the first states, outside of Atlanta, to have its state health department lab certified by the CDC to test for COVID-19, cutting down the testing time for suspected cases from days to hours.
The CDC provides Kansas with a list of people who have traveled back from China and require testing. Norman said at this time it has been a dozen or less.
He said if a person comes back and is not ill but had a significant risk, they would voluntarily quarantine away for a period of 14 days.
"If they became ill, we would test them, we would sequester them away through an isolation. It could be a home isolation and away from family members, etc. If they're ill enough, they'll be in infectious isolation or respiratory isolation away from other patients. And then, they'd be treated by staff wearing the appropriate gear in a room that manages the air properly so as to prevent infections to others."
The secretary said now his goal is to be transparent to provide quality information.
"I feel like we've gotten a good handle on the processes involved, we're stood up in terms of incident command, there's not been any dramatic surprises," said Norman. "I won't be able to tell you what the future will hold, but we will define a new normal and that hopefully will be something that doesn't impact us in a particularly negative way."
The governor and state health officials say the best way to stay healthy is to wash your hands, not touch your eyes, nose or mouth and wipe down surfaces.