FILE - In this Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, file photo, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions regarding her testing strategy and number of COVID-19 cases during a news conference at the Statehouse in Topeka Kan. The coronavirus pandemic prompted Kelly to give her 2021 State of the State address virtually, rather than during a joint session of the Legislature. (Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP, File)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Republican-led state Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would extend Kansas' state of emergency while limiting Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s power to direct the pandemic response, as workers sought to speed up the pace of coronavirus vaccinations.

A law enacted in June limits Kelly’s ability to close businesses and allows counties to opt out of health orders she issues. The law and a state of emergency that makes it easier for officials to deal with the pandemic are set to expire Jan. 26. The bill voted on Thursday would extend both through March 31.

The Senate's 34-1 vote to approve the measure sent it to the House.

Businesses, nursing homes and medical providers are granted some protections from lawsuits under the law, and their lobbyists have expressed support for extending it.

GOP lawmakers pushed to limit Kelly after she imposed a statewide stay-at-home order for five weeks early in the pandemic, saying she acted too aggressively too early and seriously damaged the state’s economy. But Kelly has said she does not regret taking aggressive action early because Kansas had to get more information about the virus.

Scott Brunner, a deputy secretary at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, told senate public health and welfare committee members on Thursday that the agency is “hoping” by next week to start requiring state nursing home inspectors to take virus tests.

The comment came a day after Tony Johnson, chief operating officer of Recovery-Care Healthcare, an organization owning 18 nursing homes in Kansas, told committee legislators that state health surveyors were entering into his group’s facilities without taking virus tests, which he called ironic, "given the circumstances that we’re living in right now.”

Meanwhile, health officials are working to finish vaccinating front-line health care workers and long-term care residents. CDC data Thursday showed that the state had administered 91,565 doses, with 3,143 out of every 100,000 residents getting a first dose.

“We have been out there beating the bushes trying to find every small dentist office and chiropractic office everything we can to get people vaccinated and we think we have got them all covered,” said Dr. Allen Greiner, the top public health official for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas.

He said he thinks the county eventually will be able to vaccinate 2,000 people a day at its mass vaccination site and has even immunized some health care workers from neighboring Johnson County.

“We are all trying to share," he said in a webcast Thursday.

One issue has been people rejecting the vaccine, said Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System.

“Even on our own campus we are vaccinating about 60% to 65% of our own people. That means we have 35% to 40% turning it down," he said during the webcast.

Jason Glenn, a professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center, said there are many minority communities with historical reasons to be distrustful of the medical community, including mistreatment and exploitation in experiments.

“Combined with this history is all of the misinformation that circulates in our age," Glenn said. “So many people rely on various social media platforms to learn about what is happening in the world and that information is often not just not credible but intentionally misleading. That makes for a time bomb as far as how people perceive the vaccine."

Despite the challenges, the biggest issue for now is supply, Greiner and Stites said.

“The truth is we have clinics set up," Stites said. “We are ready to go. We could be doing thousands of people a day, we could do 2,000 people a day. And I know Wyandotte County could do thousands a day. I know Johnson County could do thousands a day. We have got to get the vaccination in. We have to get the vaccination here."

But Stites predicted that the supply issues wouldn't last long — perhaps as few as a couple months — as more vaccines are approved and production ramps up.

“You can stay safe while you wait for the vaccine," he said. “You have been doing it for 10 months. Two more months, two more months. We can get this done."


Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas. Andy Tsubasa Field is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.