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In Kansas City, Kansas, People Begin Adjusting To Life Amid Coronavirus

Laura Ziegler
KCUR 89.3
Travis Metsker, a manager with the Boilermakers Union in Kansas City, Kansas, has taken it upon himself to wipe door handles to the building daily to protect against coronavirus.

The lobby of the Bank of Labor, in the old Boilermakers Union Building at 754 Minnesota Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas, smelled like disinfectant.

“You never know what people bring in,” said Gabriel Naba.

Normally a bank teller, this week he stood in the middle of a room that glistened like the interior of a new model home and wore rubber gloves as he greeted everyone who entered the lobby. He lives with his elderly parents, who he said are vulnerable to the coronavirus.

“What if I get sick? Me, I'm scared of bringing something home,” he said.

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
This bank is taking extreme caution to protect against COVID-19 but employees still worry.

This was the new reality in Wyandotte County — and the rest of the country. As of Friday, March 20, county health department officials had confirmed 9 cases of coronavirus, including the first fatality in Kansas, a man in his '70s who died on March 12 in a Wyandotte County nursing home.

Gov. Laura Kelly declared a state of emergency, becoming the nation's first governor to close K-12 schools. Unified Government Mayor/CEO David Alvey followed suit and, with the mayors of Edwardsville and Bonner Springs, also declared a State of Emergency for the region.

Streets and sidewalks in Kansas City, Kansas, were barely populated, as metro officials ordered restaurants and bars closed and banned gatherings of more than 10 people.

Around the corner from the bank, the plaza in front of the Wyandotte County Courthouse and municipal office building was eerily empty on a weekday lunch hour.

Jennifer, an I.T. worker for the city who asked that we not use her last name, said it had been crazy trying to get hundreds of employees prepared to work remotely since municipal offices shut down.

“So we’ve already gotten several hundred set up with access to work at home,” she said on Wednesday. “It’s been busy, a busy couple of days.”

As the federal government considered a bailout for airlines and cruise ships and hinted at cash payments to citizens, business was slow at the Kansas City Cupcake Co., just down the street from the county government offices.

The storefront was empty, its display case brimming with icing-covered cupcakes. Employee Emily Tresner also serves sandwiches and soups, and said on a typical work day there would be a steady stream of lunch traffic. But the recent mandate that customers can only order take-out had slowed demand.

“Especially … sandwiches,” she said. “Sandwiches and coffee are usually big walk-in stuff, but now that people aren’t allowed in we don’t get much of that.”

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Emily Tresner says Kansas City Cupcake Co. sells sandwiches to government workers, but business was slow due to the COVID-19 crisis.

In northeast Kansas City, Kansas, Wilson’s Pizza on Quindaro Boulevard was also open for take-out only.

Owner Gary Wilson's  21-year-old son, Seven, who was on coronavirus leave from South Dakota State University, safely delivered orders from behind a plexi-glass barrier.

His pizza shop has long been a community hub, so Wilson had been getting calls from his regulars asking if he was open.

“We’re open, but you need to call in your order,” he told a caller as he stood on the sidewalk. “These new laws, they don’t want you sitting around or anything.”

For Wilson, business hadn’t slowed much yet, but the uncertainty weighed on him. It wasn't only the profits he was concerned about. His place is a regular stop for young people he puts to work, giving them some pocket change. This is as important to Wilson as feeding them pizza.

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Seven Wilson behind the plexi-glass 'spin window' at Wilson's Pizza.

For 15-year-old Willie Vella, the order on Wednesday to close the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Library was another inconvenience in the week of COVID-19. School at J.C. Harmon was all on line. No sports. No robotics. It's a huge adjustment for him.

He was hoping to refresh his supply of books and movies to fill his time under quarantine. But after he raced to the building on his bike, he found the notice on the door: Closed until April 6 by order of the school board.

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Willie Vella got to the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library just a few hours after it closed, unable to get new material while he's home from school.

“I read an email that they were going to be (closed) but didn’t know when,” he said, still on his bike seat. He was hoping to get there in time. “Oh well.”

Then he took off for the half-mile ride to home, a model of calm acceptance in a chaotic time.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @laurazig.

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
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