Gov. Laura Kelly and the eight legislators on the State Finance Council agreed to extend the state’s COVID-19 emergency disaster declaration for one month to Nov. 15. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly and legislators on the State Finance Council avoided political fireworks Wednesday to authorize extension until Nov. 15 of the statewide disaster declaration instituted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
An official declaration is necessary to sustain work of state agencies collaborating with counties to deliver personal protective equipment, operate a 65,000-meal per day food pantry, support temporary housing and transport testing materials.
Lack of a declaration could impede the state’s ability to handle 870,000 test kits scheduled to be sent to Kansas by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said Kansas National Guard Maj. Gen. David Weishaar.
“Without a disaster declaration we will struggle with the ability to distribute those across the state and to provide the transportation to test those samples,” said Weishaar, who is the state’s adjutant general.
He briefed the council prior to a unanimous vote without debate to extend the declaration scheduled to expire Oct. 15. The council consists of the Democratic governor as well as six Republican and two Democratic members of the Kansas Legislature.
In previous meetings of the council, Republicans and Democrats engaged in consequential disagreements on the governor’s decisions during the pandemic and procedural conflicts regarding basic council procedures.
Weishaar, who also serves as the state’s emergency management director, said a declared state of disaster was necessary to deploy personnel and move supplies and equipment for COVID-19. There might be issues with legal immunity for people participating in the response without a standing declaration, he said.
Since the order was last renewed in September, Weishaar said, more than 8,200 cases of personal protective equipment had been delivered across the state. Emergency management personnel are taking part in community-based testing for COVID-19 in Ford, Lyon, Seward and Wyandotte counties, he said.
Weishaar said there had been an increase in demand for noncongregate shelter due to the coronavirus. He said the average was 50 to 80 per day. Temporary housing sites are being used in Emporia, Dodge City, Lansing, Gardner, Liberal and Kansas City, Kansas.
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