KS Governor: No statewide stay-at-home mandate, unemployment solutions coming

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Gov. Laura Kelly says she will keep stay-at-home orders at the local level for now.

In an interview with 13 NEWS in her office Wednesday morning, Kelly said she does not see the need for a statewide mandate at this point in time. She said she is pleased with how local governments are making the decisions based on their specific situations as coronavirus infections spread.

"There's no doubt that stay at home orders are very disruptive, and, while I think they're important and I support them because the safety and health of Kansans is number one, I don't think you ought to impose them unless there's clearly a need to do that," she said.

More than half the state's population has been told to stay home, and limit trips only for essential purposes, like food or health care. Johnson, Wyandotte, and Douglas counties were among the first orders to take effect Tuesday; Sedgwick County joined Wednesday; and Shawnee County will follow Thursday, with more counties announcing the action.

A nationwide shortage of test kits has put restrictions on who gets tested, which Kelly says adds to the difficulty in obtaining information to make decisions.

"We don't know, because we're not able to test everybody," she said, "so I am relying on my medical experts to tell me when it's time to pull the trigger."

Kelly also acknowledged problems with the state's phone line and web site for filing unemployment claims. She said the system is simply "overwhelmed," and asked for patience as they work to increase capacity.

"We know it's a problem. It's a problem everywhere. Nobody was equipped to handle this volume all at once," Kelly said.

People who are having trouble getting through right now will receive their full benefits, Kelly said. As an option, paper forms have been placed outside local DCF offices for people to pick up. The state already has taken the step of waiving the usual one-week wait before becoming eligible.

In addition, Kelly said the state was in the process of requesting its share of medical equipment from the federal reserve. She says the state must be prepared for any increase in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

Kelly said she is working with health experts in response to a situation that is developing by the moment. She said state lawmakers approved her executive orders to support Kansans, and the federal stimulus should do even more. But she called hopes of a recovery by Easter "wishful thinking."

"I think anybody who starts planning for that short of time frame will run run into a lot of problems. I think we need to be thinking of this in a very long term way," she said. "We've never faced anything like this before."

Kelly also signed the state's budget Wednesday morning. It includes $65 million to support COVID-19 response efforts.