Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman infected, hospitalized with COVID-19 in July

By: - August 6, 2020 8:28 pm
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, said the 2021 Legislature would have benefit of new safety protocols to limit potential spread of COVID-19. He said a bright spot in the process was implementing new live streaming capabilities to make House and Senate work more transparent. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, said the 2021 Legislature would have benefit of new safety protocols to limit potential spread of COVID-19. He said a bright spot in the process was implementing new live streaming capabilities to make House and Senate work more transparent. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman acknowledged Thursday he was infected last month with COVID-19 and spent a week in the hospital.

The Republican from Olathe said he recovered from the illness, tested negative for the virus and received clearance from a doctor before attending a meeting last week with the governor and other legislative leaders.

Gov. Laura Kelly expressed alarm at the possibility of being exposed and was scheduled to be tested Friday morning.

Ryckman said he had a meeting with someone on July 10 who then informed the speaker he had been exposed to the coronavirus, which has killed 368 Kansans and infected more than 29,000. The speaker said he isolated at home, then took the test as a precaution on July 13.

Later that night, Ryckman said, he started to feel symptoms.

“Obviously, you’re concerned about COVID, but at least for me, you don’t think you’ll get it yourself,” Ryckman said. “You worry about your family, your parents, your neighbors, the elderly. It’s obviously made it personal for me, made it real.”

A finger test at home showed he was low on oxygen. He said he went to the emergency room to be checked out, and stayed at the hospital for a week to recover. The final few days at the hospital, he said, were mostly a precaution.

Before attending the July 29 meeting of the State Finance Council, Ryckman said, he tested negative for COVID-19 and was informed by a doctor it would be safe.

Kelly said Ryckman’s decision to attend the meeting “after being released from the hospital, while concealing his diagnosis from those of us in the room and taking his mask off, was reckless and dangerous.”

“As elected officials,” the governor said, “we have a unique responsibility to set the right example for the people of Kansas, and to follow the commonsense guidance from medical experts. While I’m dismayed by his actions, I wish Speaker Ryckman good health, and I’m glad he’s on the road to recovery.”

Ryckman accused the governor of fear mongering and public shaming.

“I understand that the unknowns around COVID make people uncomfortable,” Ryckman said. “That’s why I listened to my doctor for my medical care and clearance before ending self isolation.”

House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, said he had no concerns about Ryckman’s presence at the meeting. Everyone in the meeting wore a mask before taking their seats, and remained six feet apart.

“I do think the fact that the speaker got COVID and was in the hospital should be a cautionary tale for all of us to be careful. You look at the Legislature, he’s one of the younger, healthier members. There are plenty of people that are a lot more susceptible than him. We all need to be very careful.”

Ryckman first notified Republican colleagues of his illness in an email he sent Thursday afternoon.

“I want you to hear from me that I was among those to test positive for COVID,” Ryckman said. “I was hospitalized, have followed doctor’s orders, and self-isolated during that time. I am now past what doctors consider the contagious stage and am on the road to recovery. I know that I’ve been fortunate, and I am thankful that my family tested negative.”

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He is a lifelong Kansan.

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