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Kansas City And Jackson County Ease Coronavirus Rules Amid Persistently High Case Numbers

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas explains changes in the COVID restrictions in the metro during a press conferences at City Hall on Wednesday.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas on Wednesday loosened restrictions on bars and restaurants but acknowledged the coronavirus threat remained high.

Local leaders acknowledged that they were under pressure to loosen restrictions because of other jurisdictions' less restrictive orders.

Following in the footsteps of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, officials in Kansas City and Jackson County, Missouri, on Wednesday eased coronavirus-related restrictions on some local businesses.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr. both introduced amended emergency orders allowing bars and restaurants to remain open until midnight or later, past the 10 p.m. closing requirements introduced by many local governments in November.

The restrictions are being loosened despite persistently higher numbers of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths since November. Lucas and White both acknowledged the changes were in part a response to the looser restrictions enacted by nearby jurisdictions such as Johnson County, Kansas, which have allowed those establishments to remain open later.

“To remain consistent with neighboring jurisdictions, lessen confusion among residents and create fairness for eastern Jackson County businesses, we have decided to move forward in this manner,” White said in a news release.

Lucas announced at a news conference Wednesday that Kansas City’s state of emergency would be extended to May 1, with most restrictions remaining in effect.

He also said that the COVID-19 threat remained high and acknowledged that both he and White were feeling pressure to enact uniform restrictions across the metro area.

“The regional consensus seems to have in some ways turned in a manner different than that which all of our health directors in six counties and a city had recommended back in November,” Lucas said. “That said, Kansas City is not on an island.”

In Jackson County, bars and restaurant will be permitted to operate until 12:30 a.m., starting Thursday, though other restrictions will remain in effect. In November, Jackson County issued orders requiring those establishments to close at 10 p.m. Jackson County’s new order does not apply in Kansas City, Missouri, or Independence.

Coronavirus case numbers have remained persistently high, albeit unchanged, since the additional temporary restrictions were imposed by several jurisdictions in November to slow a surge in cases.

Roughly 1,000 new cases a day are being reported in the Kansas City metro area, and an average of 166 people are being hospitalized with the virus each day, according to the Mid-America Regional Council.

Only 16% of intensive care unit beds were available in the metro area for patients this week. Fewer than 10% were available in Kansas City, Missouri, and about 13% were available in Jackson County, Missouri.

On Tuesday, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas, also eased restrictions to allow bars and restaurants to remain open until 12:30 a.m. Under previous rules, which were introduced in November, those establishments were required to close at 10 p.m.

Other restrictions, including capacity limits and mask requirements, remain in effect.

Johnson County’s looser restrictions, which were introduced in November, allow bars and restaurants to remain open until midnight. Unified Government leaders have said their move was also undertaken in the interest of fairness to local businesses.

“Not all jurisdictions in the region adopted identical restrictions, creating inconsistencies across some state and county lines,” the county stated in a news release. “This new order for Wyandotte County is more consistent with bar and restaurant protocols currently in place in most neighboring counties.”

Despite allowing businesses to remain open later, officials urged residents to continue taking steps to limit transmission of the virus, including wearing masks and maintaining physical distance.

Dr. Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City Health Department, said that he wished the federal government had taken further steps to ensure businesses facing restrictions would be protected from financial hardship.

Archer discouraged people from dining in at restaurants or drinking in bars.

“This is Restaurant Week. Get all the carryout you can. Support our restaurants,” Archer said. “But don’t do indoor dining. It’s not safe yet.”

As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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