TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly tested negative for the coronavirus Friday as a Republican legislative leader faced criticism from some Democrats for not telling colleagues until this week that he’d been infected and hospitalized before he, Kelly and other top lawmakers had a public meeting last month.
Fellow Republican leaders defended House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., saying he took more than adequate precautions to prevent spreading the virus after learning he might have it July 10 and had been cleared by a doctor before attending a meeting with Kelly on July 29 at the Statehouse. They also accused the Democratic governor of politicizing his case.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said also he would get tested, adding that the House speaker “can’t be trusted.” Kelly has called Ryckman’s attendance at the July 29 meeting “reckless and dangerous.” Ryckman informed fellow House Republicans of his positive test in a Thursday email.
The dispute played out as the Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported an additional 921 coronavirus cases since Wednesday, an increase of 3.1% to bring the total number of confirmed and probable cases for the pandemic to 30,638. The health department also reported 12 additional COVID-19-related deaths, an increase of 3.3%, to bring the total to 380.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
“People just need to be careful,” said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Wichita-area Republican who participated in the July 29 meeting by phone. “I made a decision early to wear a mask and made that decision because I wanted to protect the people around me.”
Ryckman is the highest-ranking Kansas official known to have been infected. Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt of neighboring Oklahoma tested positive last month.
Kelly was tested Friday morning and received her negative result quickly, said spokesman Sam Coleman.
Ryckman texted that he is glad that the governor is well and added that he followed doctors’ orders, wore a mask, maintained social distancing, and was “well beyond” the recommended isolation period when the meeting occurred. Kelly said in a statement Thursday that Ryckman took his mask off during the meeting.
Hensley is so far the only legislative leader who was at the meeting who plans to get tested, though he said he’s had no symptoms. The other six who attended said they doubted that Ryckman exposed them.
“Why is she making a big deal of this?” House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, said of Kelly. “Politics.”
Kelly and Republican lawmakers have been at odds for months over how best to slow the virus’ spread, with the GOP successfully pushing to have local officials make decisions, well before confirmed and probable cases statewide rose by 81% over the past month.
Some Republicans argue Kelly’s administration is painting an overly gloomy picture.
Senate President Susan Wagle, another Wichita Republican, noted that the percentage of reported cases resulting in deaths is at its lowest point since the first fatality was reported in March. It was at 1.24% as of Friday. More than half the reported deaths have been associated with nursing homes.
“The theatrical red curtain is now wide open on Governor Kelly’s political effort to spread fear and anxiety rather than stories of hope and recovery,” Wagle said in a statement texted to The AP.
Ryckman said he learned July 10 that he’d had contact with someone who might have the virus. He tested positive July 13 and was later hospitalized for about a week. He said he told everyone with whom he’d been in contact.
Hensley said he was not contacted even though he and Ryckman were among seven legislative leaders who met July 9 at the Statehouse to discuss administrative matters.
Ryckman did not immediately respond to Hensley’s comments, but Hawkins rejected the idea that Ryckman could have spread the virus then.
“We were all around him and none of us got it,” Hawkins said.
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