Kansas not considering state of emergency despite COVID-19 surge

Legislative obstacles make declaration challenging
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly
Posted at 4:19 PM, Aug 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-20 17:19:44-04

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said Friday she is not considering a new state of emergency declaration at this time.

“There are a lot of ducks that have to be put in a row before you do those kinds of things and before it would make any difference,” she said during a press conference with Kansas City-area doctors at Saint Luke’s South. “As you are well aware, there are a number of obstacles that were put up by the legislature to allow me to, not so much to just to declare a state of emergency, but to sustain it.”

A new surge of COVID-19 cases, fueled by the more transmissible delta variant, is filling up hospitals across Kansas, Missouri and the country as health care workers sound the alarm.

“At six of the largest hospitals in Kansas, ICUs are at 100% capacity,” Kelly said. “Two-thirds of the beds in those ICUs are filled with COVID-19 patients. Other hospitals across Kansas are perilously close to maximum capacity.”

Staffing remains the primary issue, limiting the number of beds that are available, but Kansas can’t request assistance from the federal government for nurses and other skilled medical personnel without a state of emergency in place.

“You need to have an emergency declaration in place to actually secure federal support, so clearly it’s something that we are contemplating,” Kelly said. “But as you well know, the legislature has made it very difficult for me to do that.”

During the first few months of the pandemic, the majority Republican Kansas legislature moved to limit the emergency powers of Kelly and public-health officials.

The GOP passed a bill in May 2020 that requires Kelly to get legislative approval for emergency measures or extensions of those measures.

Republican legislators ended the state of emergency in Kansas on June 15 over Kelly’s objection.

That leaves Kansas in a bidding war with other states battling COVID-19 surges, including Texas and Florida, for a limited pool of available nurses.

“Right now, we’re in the same situation we were at the beginning of the pandemic, where we are competing with other states for contract nurses,” Kelly said. “Texas and Florida are paying a fortune, twice what we pay contract nurses, so we’re going to end up in a bidding war with other states. We are looking to see what we can do and how we can do it.”

Meanwhile, Shawnee County, which includes the state capital of Topeka, issued a state of emergency declaration Thursday, signaling that it’s “maxed out” available resources for combatting the COVID-19 pandemic and may require state aid.