MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Kansas took a major step toward reopening Friday amid the coronavirus pandemic as unemployment numbers soared and a nursing home outbreak grew.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate hit 11.2% in April, an increase from a historical low of 2.8% in March, according to preliminary estimates from the Kansas Department of Labor. The U.S. unemployment rate is at 14.7%.
Seasonally adjusted job estimates indicate total Kansas nonfarm jobs decreased by 130,400 from March. Private sector jobs, a subset of total nonfarm jobs, decreased by 121,600 from the previous month, while government decreased by 8,800 jobs.
Emilie Doerksen, a labor economist for the state, said in a written statement that the estimates “reflect the impact of efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic" and that “the leisure and hospitality sector saw a particularly sharp decline, accounting for 50,200 out of the total decrease since March.”
As Memorial Day weekend approached, the maximum size of mass gatherings increased from 10 to 15 people. State-owned casinos also were allowed to reopen, along with theaters, museums, bowling alleys and other indoor leisure places. But bars, nightclubs and swimming pools must stay closed for now.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Lee Norman said Friday that it was crucial to “exercise caution and remain vigilant," noting that “just because we are going into a new phase of reopening, the virus hasn’t gone away."
The number of cases in the state rose by 419 cases Friday to 8,958, with 46% of the new cases in three southeast Kansas counties with meatpacking plants — Ford, Finney and Seward counties. Combined they have 3,740 cases, up 194 from Wednesday, the last day the state reported data. State health officials also reported 185 deaths, with seven deaths tied to outbreaks in the packing plants.
Nursing homes also have been hard hit, with an outbreak at Brighton Gardens in Prairie Village, Kansas, resulting in 81 cases and 15 deaths.
The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services cited the facility May 11 after finding it placed residents in “immediate jeopardy related to the spread of COVID-19.”
Records obtained by The Kansas City Star show that a nurse's aide recorded having positive symptoms of COVID-19 on a screening form on April 16 and April 17 but was still allowed to care for residents in seven rooms. The employee, along with three residents, then tested positive for COVID-19 on April 22. The documents also cited issues with improper use of personal protective equipment and inadequate cleaning.
The “Immediate Jeopardy” tag, which is the most severe citation, describes a provider’s noncompliance that “has caused or is likely to cause serious injury, harm, impairment, or death to a resident,” according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Denise Falco, regional vice president of operations for Sunrise Senior Living, which owns Brighton Gardens, said Thursday evening in an emailed statement that it “swiftly" took steps to retrain staff on screening protocols. The tag has since been removed.
Prisons and jails also are struggling with cases. The state's largest prison in Lansing is up to 817 infections among inmates and 96 among staffers since the outbreak began. And another 47 infected inmates from a now-suspended Wichita work release program also are imprisoned there. Two staff members and four inmates have died, but most inmates never showed symptoms. Meanwhile, the Hutchinson News reported that one inmate at the Reno County Jail also has tested positive, leading seven cellmates and nine officers to be placed in isolation.