Johnson County woman has tested positive for coronavirus, making first confirmed case in Kansas

By Jim McLean

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas has its first case of the new coronavirus, officials announced Saturday.

The Johnson County woman infected with the virus appears to have contracted her illness while traveling in the northeastern United States, state and local public health officials said at a Statehouse news conference early Saturday evening. She was tested earlier this week for COVID-19.

Although the woman marks the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Kansas, she was among 80 people in Kansas being monitored for the infection. Most are being monitored because they traveled to other countries where the virus is spreading most quickly.

“There is currently no evidence of widespread transmission of Covid-19 in Johnson County or the Kansas City metro area,” said Mary Beverly, the interim director of the Johnson County Health Department. “The risk to residents remains low. However, this situation is evolving and remains subject to change.”

Using testing approved by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the results of the test on the Johnson County woman were presumed positive. Now the CDC will double-check that diagnosis with its own testing.

The woman remains isolated at her home, while the Kansas Department of Health and Environment works with local officials to track whom she may have had contact with. The only description given of the patient is her gender and that she is younger than 50 years old.

“We feel very confident she’s going to go ahead and isolate herself at home,” Beverly said.

The woman developed symptoms consistent with Covid-19 on March 1, and went to a doctor the next day or the day after.

“This individual did everything right. When symptoms started, they used a mask and then self-isolated,” Beverly said. Masks can be effective when worn by infected people to stop spreading the virus to others. But mask wearers do not get much protection. “They notified their physician before going into the doctor’s office so that others would not be infected.”

Kansas health officials said earlier this week that the state’s lab could test up to 60 samples a day and have results back in a few hours. The new case comes as the United States is seeing an increasing number of confirmed cases as testing ramps up.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s U.S. count is more than 150 cases in about half of U.S. states, with more than 10 deaths; The New York Times reported more than 350 cases with 19 deaths. COVID-19 has sickened more than 105,000 people worldwide, and more than 3,500 people have died.

State health officials said the scale of the spread of the virus meant Kansas was bound to see a case.

“We predicted this. And here we are,” KDHE Secretary Lee Norman said. “So, not a great surprise and we’re taking it all in stride.”

State officials say they are monitoring people in the state who recently traveled to coronavirus hotspots China or South Korea. Norman said Italy could soon be added to that list.

COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough and trouble breathing. The symptoms are usually mild, though more severe symptoms may include pneumonia, which can be fatal.

Federal and state health officials say the best ways to prevent getting sick from the virus are to thoroughly wash your hands, cover your coughs and stay home from work or school if you are sick.

KDHE has a website dedicated to information about COVID-19.

Gov. Laura Kelly said Saturday there is little reason for people to worry about a confirmed case appearing in Kansas.

“No one should panic over this new virus or this confirmed case,” said Gov. Laura Kelly. “Kansas still is considered at low risk for spread of the virus.”

Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for the Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks or email jim (at) kcur (dot) org.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.