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Act Like You Have The Virus, Kansas City Officials Urge As They Step Up Social Distance Enforcement

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Courtesy of KMBC live stream
Mayor Quinton Lucas wants to make sure all residents get public health messages about social distancing.

Although the number of cases of COVID-19 is growing in the Kansas City area, the rate of increase does not appear to be. Still, Kansas City Health Department Director Dr. Rex Archer said we must be vigilant.

"Remember about half of folks can get this virus and not become ill enough to seek medical care," Archer said in a press conference Monday on the steps of City Hall. “We know we’ve had community spread without being able to track down somebody who is positive.”

Kansas City had more than 100 confirmed cases of the virus as of Sunday afternoon.

Mayor gives citizens a B grade

To mitigate the spread, Mayor Quinton Lucas said that the city will be enhancing enforcement of a stay at home order.

He said police patrols will increase in area parks.

“It disappoints me that this weekend when I was in Swope Park and saw probably 50 kids around a basketball game, the kids that are playing and then folks that are standing around,” Lucas said. The reason for the social distancing orders is to protect the safety of those kids, their parents and their grandparents, and Lucas said Kansas City has not cracked down on social distancing as hard as some other cities, because he sees most people complying.

"I'd give Kansas City a solid B," he said. “We are not trying to eliminate anyone’s normal way of life. There are other cities in this country that have issued curfews. We’ve tried to make sure to be deferential to the public but one thing we will be sure of is that some of the very community spread concerns we’re trying to address don’t occur.”

The virus has most definitely taken hold in our communities.

The mayor also encouraged people to call City Hall’s 3-1-1 action to report “house parties or any other events that seem to exceed the ten-person limit.” Again, he said this was a response to anecdotal reports of large social gatherings.

Callers will be put in touch with a member of the Kansas City Police Department’s community interaction officers.

Staying safe while shopping

Mayor Lucas urged people to distance themselves from one another when shopping.

“We’ve also heard anecdotal reports of how crowded certain stores can get,” the mayor said. “Even if stores haven't put down spaces for you (to distance with) just make sure you maintaining it yourself because that’s the much better way for us to address (community spread) long term.”

Essential businesses

The mayor said his office has been getting calls to clarify what is considered an "essential" business.

“I’ve got a very simple rule of thumb,” the mayor said. “If you have to ask whether your business is essential, it likely is not.”

An essential business, he said, includes those that are engaged in keeping the community open and helping people survive.

He said in recent days the health department has issued 200 letters to businesses not in compliance with the new rule, and that the department would continue to monitor the situation. There is a city hotline specifically for small business owners with questions: 816-513-1120. 

Violations of the orders are misdemeanor charges that carry a fine of up to $500 and up to six months in jail.

Housing for homeless people

The city has spoken to a number of hotels and apartments to create temporary housing for homeless residents, the mayor said. Officials are working with non-profit and faith-based agencies to accommodate people without homes who are waiting on test results or who need to be isolated. They are also communicating with state and federal agencies in the event extra hospital beds are needed for this population.

Supporting small businesses

The mayor said this will be “a significant time of struggle” for small businesses and urged Kansas Citians to support local businesses not only during this time of crisis, but in the long term. He acknowledged some businesses will feel the hardship more than others.

“It’s one thing to be a law firm right now that’s shut down, it’s another to be a barber shop,” he said. “The law firm can continue to keep doing a lot of stuff, the barber shop at 69th and Prospect doesn’t have that same opportunity."

Lucas said he’s spoken with U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver who assured him there would be an expeditious deployment of federal stimulus dollars to the city. The recently-passed Kansas City budget also included an emergency fund to support small businesses as well as an extension of the Kansas City earnings tax payments.

People have been listening

Emergency Medical Services director Dr. Erica Carney said a shortage of testing, the slow turnaround time for test results and empirical evidence from those working on the front lines with the COVID-19 crisis in the Kansas City area indicate the virus has most definitely taken hold in our communities.

"The good news is in hospitals across the board the census is low," Carney said, "meaning people have been listening to the mayor and health directors to only go into the ER if you become extremely ill. That being said we all feel on the health care side that this is the calm before the storm.”

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on twitter @laurazig or by email at lauraz@kcur.org

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