Jasmine Pankratz
KU Statehouse Wire Service
If Kansas was split right down the middle, to the East there are 204 current cases of coronavirus and five deaths. To the West, there’s only two cases despite being neighbors to the most infected of Kansas’ border states, Colorado, with 1,430 cases and 24 deaths.
What’s the difference?
“We stopped shaking hands, that’s the biggest difference I’ve seen,” joked Roger Marshall, Republican representative for Kansas’ 1st District (majority of which is west Kansas).
“I think that we practice social distancing just as part of our regular culture,” he continued. “I’m not going to say we’re immune from it. I sure think that Kansas overall is a safe place to live, one of the safest places in the world and even more so in rural America.”
Marshall says all it would take is for one or two people in these communities to contract the virus and it could spread quickly, but they’re being cautious just like everywhere else.
“As a physician, I’ll say what I’ve been saying for weeks: keep houses and businesses well-ventilated with fresh Kansas air,” he said Tuesday during a phone interview. “Again, this is not the time for panic. Wash your hands. Stay home if you’re sick. Use common sense.”
Meanwhile, farmers, ranchers and especially truck drivers hauling food and supplies have increased their hours to keep America going, not allowing them to self-quarantine.
“The big concern would be the Interstate but it’s a real balancing act to keep our economy going and we’ve just got to take it one day at a time,” said Marshall. “Every day the governor and KDHE are asking what’s the best way to protect Kansas. So far, we’ve all tried to avoid shutting down state borders. I still think the best way to protect Kansans is to do what the president’s asked us to do.”
Western Kansas has taken action to follow President Trump’s orders.
“In rural America, our meeting places this time of year are Friday night basketball games, places of worship and school interactions,” said Marshall. “That’s all pretty well been shut down, so the reason for social interaction has been eliminated.”
Rural America also hasn’t felt some of the panic that other parts of the U.S. have. “This is not Ebola, it’s not something where you’re going to walk into the room and get it,” said the congressman. “Most of the spread is from saliva, someone talking to you and spitting on you. So if you keep 6-10 feet away, the chances of you getting it go way down. People are staying in their trucks instead of getting out and visiting, they’re not going inside the coop to get a cup of coffee, they’re not going into the gas station to get a sandwich.”
And the time out of school? Hasn’t been all that bad for kids in rural America.
“A lot of kids are out in the truck with their dads farming and ranching and learning a lot right now.”
Jasmine Pankratz is a University of Kansas senior from Abbyville, Kan., studying journalism.