NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Live Coverage: Coronavirus in the Kansas City Area
Health

Updating FAQ: How Metro Kansas City Is Responding To Coronavirus

coronavirus_red_0.jpg

Para leer este artículo en Español, haga clic aquí.

KCUR is working around the clock to keep you as informed as possible about the latest COVID-19 news in the Kansas City metro. 

We are posting frequent updates on our live blog and seeking the most up-to-the-minute information from experts. We are also inviting the public to submit questions using this form, and we will try to get answers on our Up To Date Special Coverage every weekday at 9 a.m.

GOVERNMENT ORDERS

When people are subject to multiple stay-at-home orders issued by different government bodies, which one takes precedence?

In the case of conflicts between the state and local jurisdictions, more restrictive local orders take precedence.

That’s made clear in the FAQ section of the governor’s website, which asks, “Can my local health authority impose more restrictive requirements?”

The answer: “Yes. This Order establishes the minimum requirements that must be complied with statewide. Local health authorities may enforce more restrictive public health requirements for businesses or individuals.”

Read more: When government orders conflict, the most local jurisdiction trumps

HEALTH AND SAFETY

Is my cough the coronavirus?

“If you take your temperature, and you have a fever of 100.4 or greater, a cough that’s been going on and trouble breathing, then contact your healthcare provider,” said Gary Salzman, a pulmonologist at Truman Medical Center

Here's What To Do If You Feel Sick Right Now – Advice From KU Med's Infectious Disease Expert.

My allergies are kicking in. How do I know they’re not the coronavirus?

Both allergies and COVID-19 can cause coughing and even shortness of breath. But COVID-19 often comes with a fever that allergy sufferers wouldn’t experience. Dr. Steven Stites of the University of Kansas Health System says that, for people worried about what’s making them cough, taking an antihistamine can be an easy test. “The key is if you can treat your allergy, and you don’t have a fever and you don’t have what is really a severe COVID-19 symptom, with severe cough and diarrhea and things like that, then you are probably okay.” Flu and common seasonal colds are also still circulating widely in Kansas and Missouri. Among people who have symptoms, only about 8% of COVID-19 tests in Kansas and Missouri come back positive for the virus.

Honestly, do I really have to stay home?

Yes. Staying home can have a dramatic effect on the trajectory of the disease. Kansas health secretary Dr. Lee Norman explains this in terms of “doubling time,” or how long it takes to go from one case to two cases, to four cases, to eight cases and so on. “For every person that gets it now, right now, in the state of Kansas, that person will infect 4.64 people,” Norman said on March 30. “That's what drives the increase in case numbers.”

Currently the state's doubling time is three days. Assuming there's been a 30% reduction in the movement of people over the last month to get to that doubling time, Norman said, a reduction of 45% would spread out the doubling time to 6.6 days. “I would love it if we could get to an 80% reduction in people movement,” Norman said. “I think we would see the numbers bottom out and we would very quickly get back to more normal. I can’t emphasize enough: We need to do that.”

If I do have to leave my house, what precautions should I take?

Most of us will need to go out for essential services.

"So your first question is: Is it essential that I get out and do this?" said Dr. Mary Anne Jackson. If it is essential, maintain that recommended six feet of distance between you and anyone else as much as you can.

Older folks should think about going to the grocery store very early in the day, when there's less traffic.

Going through a drive-thru is going to be relatively safe, Jackson said, just make sure you're using good hand hygiene before and after.

  • Wash your hands frequently, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your hands and face.
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently.

Does wearing gloves keep me any safer?

"I worry very much about people thinking they are protected by wearing gloves," said Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, a pediatrician at Children's Mercy and professor and interim dean at the UMKC School of Medicine. That's because it's very easy to contaminate them, and everything else you subsequently touch with them.

"I see people doing multiple tasks with these gloves on," she said, "that is not the solution."

Instead, Jackson recommends diligence when it comes to practicing enhanced hand hygiene. Wash your hands frequently, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your hands and face, and disinfect high-touch surfaces frequently.

If someone gets sick and then recovers, are they then immune?

At the moment, scientists don’t have the ability to test blood for antibodies that would determine whether a person who has recovered from COVID-19 will remain immune, says Kansas health secretary Norman.

Can I exercise outside or go to a park?

You can and you should. Not only is the occasional walk a physically healthy thing to do, it can also help boost your morale.

"I'm actively encouraging people that even though we're social distancing, that doesn't mean you have to stay in your house," said psychologist Katie Kreighauser, director of the Kansas City Center for Anxiety Treatment.

Just limit your contact with others in the process and maintain social distancing guidelines. Use of playground equipment is discouraged.

I'm really struggling with my mental health. Where can I get help?

Mental health experts say that even people who remain physically healthy throughout the COVID-19 epidemic are already experiencing high levels of trauma, which will be with them long after the spread of the virus is under control. KCUR has compiled a list of places you can get help here.

How can I talk to my kids about the coronavirus?

Tailor the information for their ages, and help them process information they're consuming elsewhere, says Wes Crenshaw, a therapist at Family Psychological Services in Lawrence.

"The best thing to do is talk to them calmly, but like they're intelligent. Don't tell them 'It will be okay.' They know it's not true," he continues. "Tell them this is a scary time, and it's okay to feel afraid." Then, he says, tell them about the steps your family is taking to try to be safe.

Is anyone enforcing these rules? What do I do if I want to report a too-large gathering?

In Kansas City, Missouri, you can call 311 and a community engagement officer will be dispatched to the scene. Mayor Quinton Lucas told KCUR's Up To Date that infractions will be treated just like breaking any other municipal ordinance.

What is the best disinfectant for surfaces?

The Mid-America Regional Council has been updating its emergency response website. The page on preventing the spread of COVID-19 includes a list of disinfectants approved by the EPA as well as other helpful information.

What resources are available for someone experiencing domestic violence?

Shelters are staying open, and staff are trying to balance safety requirements for people experiencing violence along with the social distancing required by public health mandates. The best thing to do is still to refer people to hotlines. Both the Rose Brooks Center Hotline (816-861-6100) and the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE or 1-800-799-7233) are taking calls.

Will [drinking water/working out/applying heat/eating spicy foods/intentionally exposing myself to the virus] keep me healthy?

There are so many rumors flying around, as is to be expected in a time of fear and uncertainty. Before doing anything, check the information against a reliable source like the CDC. We asked Dr. Mary Ann Jackson to do a round of myth-busting on KCUR’s Up To Date; you can read some of what we heard here, or listen to the whole thing here.

FINANCES

What if I can't pay my rent or mortgage?

"Anyone who has a mortgage and thinks they can't make their payment should reach out to their lender," says Stacey Johnson-Cosby, a realtor for Reece Nichols and member of the board of directors for Landlord, Inc. "Companies are willing to work with people in this extraordinary time." Similarly, Johnson-Cosby advises tenants to reach out to their landlord to work out a plan.

Tara Raghuveer of housing advocacy group KC Tenants says that renters can reach out to them for assistance in talking to a landlord about an alternative payment agreement.

In Jackson County, Missouri, evictions have been paused until at least April 18. Kansas Governor Laura Kelly issued an executive order pausing evictions and foreclosures statewide until May 1.

What if I lose my job?

You can file a claim to receive unemployment benefits in Kansas and Missouri. The following community programs offer various support services to people and their families:

How much money will I get from the relief fund?

Generally, individuals who make $75,000 or less will be eligible for $1,200, and married couples that make less than $150,000 will be eligible for $2,400. Here's a useful calculator from the Washington Post to find more precisely what you'll receive. The Post offers this page for free, so you shouldn't hit their paywall. 

How will the stimulus bill be paid for? Where does that $2 trillion come from?

The stimulus package is a spending bill, so the Treasury Department will borrow the funds. The debt ceiling has been suspended since August 2019, meaning there's no limit to much the U.S. can spend.

How can I balance the desire to help others with the need to save money in case of a recession?

"I would err on the side of saving money right now," says Rachel Barker of the Community Service League of Jackson County. She suggests contact the organizations you care about to see if you can volunteer time instead of donating money.

What if I can't afford food?

If you are facing food insecurity, the following organizations can help.

What if the food bank I depend on is closed?

"The network of literally scores of food pantries throughout the region is alive and well," said Jim MacDonald, chief community impact officer for the United Way of Greater Kansas City.

Social distancing guidelines and restrictions on gatherings of people have put a crimp in the operations of many food distributors, including Harvesters, but groups are working with partner organizations that have a better capacity to distribute food in emergency and crisis situations, MacDonald said.

The United Way of Greater Kansas City has more than 8,000 assistance programs throughout a 23-county service area. People can dial 2-1-1 to be referred to programs that fit their needs.

What if I can't pay my utility bills?

Many utility companies have suspended shut-offs, late fees or both, but are still encouraging their customers to keep up with their payments to avoid accruing a large balance.

Electricity: Evergy has announced a "temporary moratorium" on disconnects for residential and business customers and said it will extend payment options and waive late fees "through at least May 1." The company's walk-in customer service center is closed through March 28, but customers can call for assistance and access their Evergy account online.

Gas: Spire has suspended disconnects and late fees for residential and business customers until May 1. Customers with questions or concerns about their account are encouraged to call Spire and check its website for updates.

Water: As of March 18, the following municipal water departments have suspended water shut-offs. Customers are encouraged to call with questions about their accounts or services.

LEGAL ISSUES

What does the metro-wide "Stay at Home" order mean for me?

Residents of Kansas City and Jackson and Platte counties in Missouri, and Johnson, Wyandotte and Leavenworth counties in Kansas, will be ordered to stay at home for 30 days beginning on Tuesday, March 24.

People may leave their homes to perform essential activities and deliver essential services. The order was similar throughout the metro, but leaders advised checking each jurisdiction's website for specific information:

In general, people are allowed to leave their homes to buy food, medical supplies and materials to work from home, as well as to visit health care professionals.
Essential services include educational institutions, laundromats and dry cleaners, restaurants selling take-out and delivery orders, plumbers, electricians, mailing and shipping companies and transportation providers. Gas stations, hardware stores, banks and financial institutions, and media outlets were also deemed essential.

What should I do if I share custody of a child? Should we still transfer our child between homes?

"I tell my clients you are free to do whatever you agree upon," says attorney Anthony Moreno.

But if you disagree on how to proceed, it's time to turn back to the court order.

"If your current parenting arrangement calls for you to exchange, or for the co-parent to pick up from school, continue to follow that order, unless and up until you believe your child is absolutely going to suffer irreparable harm," Moreno tells KCUR.

But he recognizes these decisions aren't easy. "I am absolutely 150% encouraging people to be as kind and creative as we can," he says. "Let's come together right now for the benefit of our children to figure out what is best."

EDUCATION

How am I supposed to help my kid learn at home? Are they going to be spending 8 hours a day in front of the computer?

"There's not a one-size-fits-all-families solution," says Randy Watson, Kansas Commissioner of Education. "We're asking for patience, and as we start to roll this out, we'll get into the next phase in a slow way." He explains that just like a regular school day, kids will have periods of enrichment activities, combined with paper packets, books, and online learning—all of which will vary by grade and district.

Will my high school senior still be able to graduate?

"That would be our goal,” says Randy Watson, Kansas Commissioner of Education. “We want to see our students graduate and make their plans happen for the fall.” In Kansas City, Kansas, teachers and counselors are reaching out to individual students who currently don't have enough credits, "to see how we can get them across the finish line," says Superintendent Charles Foust.

RESOURCES

Is there any danger of grocery stores running out of food?

While there might be temporary shortages of certain items, Associated Wholesale Grocers CEO David Smith said manufacturers and grocers will soon catch back up to demand.

"There's plenty of food, we are not going to run out," Smith said. "A few items may be in short supply temporarily and some of the variety that you used to see won't be there on a day in and day out basis, but (manufacturers are) going to be focusing on getting the top sellers back on the shelf as quickly as possible, and we're picking those products up and bringing them in."

Smith recommended keeping a two-week supply on hand in case you need to quarantine. After that, "buy as you normally would," he said. "Don't hoard, leave some for your neighbor."

What about people who don't have access to a cell phone or the Internet?

Many of these support services can't be accessed without a phone or computer. With public libraries closed, many people without their own technology are now digitally closed off. The following government services are available to provide low-income families and individuals with a smartphone and access to the internet.

How can I help?

  • Harvesters is requesting cash donations and a small number of volunteers.
  • The Kansas City Police Department is asking for donations of face masks and temporal scanner thermometers.
  • The Johnson County Emergency Management Division is looking for donations of cloth masks, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer.
  • The University of Kansas Medical Center is accepting donations of N95 respirator face masks.
  • Most charities have stopped receiving donations of clothes and furniture, but others have specific needs, like diapers.
  • If you're financially stable right now and worried about your favorite local business or restaurant: "The best thing you can do for any small business right now is buy a gift certificate," says Casey Simmons, who owns A Store Named Stuff with her sister Sloane. She told Up To Date, "It's immediate money. You're saying, 'I believe in you. I believe you have a future.'"
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with essential news and information.
Your donation today keeps local journalism strong.