- Associated Press - Monday, May 4, 2020

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Restaurant dining rooms, retail stores and some offices began reopening Monday after Kansas lifted a statewide stay-at-home order, though some business owners hesitated, still concerned about the novel coronavirus.

Gov. Laura Kelly plans to reopen the pandemic-battered economy in four stages between now an at least June 15. The first stage began when the her stay-at-home order expired at midnight Sunday, allowing dine-in service in restaurants and the reopening of stores, though social distancing still must be observed.

But some owners weren’t ready to open their stores to in-person shoppers. In Wichita, Watermark Books and Cafe remained closed except for online orders and curbside pickup, though owner Sarah Bagby has seen business drop 60% to 70%. She said she’s still working out issues that come with running a store where customers had been used to handling multiple books while browsing.

“We’re going to do this slowly and deliberately,” she said. “What once was once considered cozy is now considered risky, so we have to kind of reconfigure some things.”

Many businesses, including bars, gyms, theaters, barbershops and hair and nail salons, must remain closed until the second phase begins on May 18. That’s also when a 10-person mass gathering limit would increase, first to 30 until June 1 and then 90 until June 15.

Kelly’s plan already has drawn criticism for treating certain types of businesses differently from others. She’s also allowing local officials to impose stricter rules.

In the Kansas City area, Johnson County, the state’s most populous county, and neighboring Wyandotte County, are keeping stay-at-home orders in place through this Sunday. The two counties account for more than 100 of the state’s 136 reported COVID-19-related deaths.

In Shawnee County, home to the state capital of Topeka, Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino, the health officer, said the county’s 24 new cases last week were more than double the number the previous week, and cases with no tie to a previous infection source are more frequent. He said new restrictions are possible.

Confirmed coronavirus cases in Kansas rose by 4.3% on Monday, up 215 to 5,245 total, though the actual number is thought to be higher because of limited testing and because people can be infected without showing symptoms. Reported COVID-19-related deaths increased by two.

The Kansas Department of Corrections reported that a third inmate died in a coronavirus outbreak at the state prison in Lansing, near Kansas City. Some 380 inmates and 88 employees have tested positive there, and there have been more than 480 confirmed cases among inmates and staff at seven of the state’s nine other prisons, but no deaths.

The coronavirus can cause severe illness or death, particularly for older people or people with existing medical conditions. But most infected people have mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within a few weeks.

In northwestern Kansas, Junelle Hills put up the open sign for Interior Connection and Quilt Cabin in Colby. It sells curtains, quilting supplies and portable sheds and cabins, and Hills said she was looking forward to “getting back to normal.”

Her door has been locked for weeks, but she shipped material for masks and let in individual customers who needed supplies to make them. She remained busy even as the normal weekday 8:30 a.m. bustle in her hometown disappeared, she said.

“It was kind of scary some mornings, driving to work, because it was like a ghost town,” she said.

In Dodge City in southwestern Kansas, Brenda Lee was eager to reopen the I Don’t Care Family Restaurant, so named because that was often the answer she or her husband gave when the other asked where they should eat. The reopening won’t happen for a week or two, but that’s because of a renovation undertaken during the stay-at-home order.

Lee said the restaurant was observing social distancing before the stay-at-home order. Even without the coronavirus, she said, the restaurant has to worry about people coming in with illnesses like the flu.

“That’s the risk of being a business, period,” she said.


Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

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