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Kansas City Area Leaders Announce Limits On Bar Hours And Gatherings As Coronavirus Surges

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas details some of the local health orders announced Monday on the steps of city hall in response to the resurgence of COVID-19 hospitalizations and infections in the area.
Carlos Moreno
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas announced new COVID-19 guidance on Monday.

The new restrictions come as the Missouri Hospital Association asked Missouri's governor to issue a statewide mask mandate Friday.

Leaders across the Kansas City area announced new coronavirus restrictions Monday to combat surging cases in the region.

“We are in the toughest moment since this virus came into our communities, and overcoming this crisis requires an aggressive and immediate response,” Lucas said in a news release. “State lines, county lines, and city lines are nothing more than street names. It takes leadership and all of us — our entire region — to slow the spread.”

The new guidelines in Kansas City, Missouri, state that:

  • Indoor gatherings must be limited to 10 people.
  • Restaurants, taverns, wedding and other event spaces must close at 10 p.m. , observe social distancing and limit indoor occupants to 50% capacity.
  • Indoor and outdoor patrons at such facilities must be seated and masked except when eating and drinking. Indoor and outdoor parties are limited to 10 people.
  • Restaurants, taverns and bars must immediately report known COVID-19 cases to the Kansas City Health Department.
  • Masks must be worn in all indoor spaces with more than one person per room, and outdoor spaces where social distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Patrons of gyms, fitness, and recreational centers, including city, school, and other publicly-owned and managed facilities, are required to wear masks at all times, and these establishments are limited to no more than 50 percent capacity.

“Without these additional protective measures to prevent COVID-19 transmission, we as a community will continue to see this epidemic spiral out of control,” Dr. Rex Archer, director of the health department, said in the news release. “Not only are we seeing record increases in new cases and COVID deaths, we will also experience additional deaths that could have been saved if there was room in the hospitals to treat these other conditions. If everyone takes personal responsibility to follow our new orders dozens of lives will be saved.”

The new regulations take effect this Friday and will last until the end of the emergency declaration for Kansas City on Jan. 16, according to the mayor's office.

The order comes before Thanksgiving and the holiday season, which could further increase cases if families get together to celebrate. Lucas said he doesn’t want to be the “Grinch” but he’s urging Kansas City residents to rethink their Thanksgiving plans.

“I have a family of some size. I will not see them on Thanksgiving,” Lucas said at a press conference Monday. “... There are more family events where we have seen the tragic spread of COVID-19 than folks want to let on.”

The regulations come as the region is at a “critical point” in the pandemic — further coronavirus spread could prompt hospitals to ration care, according to a Friday letter from six metro health departments.

Hospitals are at unprecedented capacity because of the increasing number of coronavirus admissions, decreasing staff due to some workers quarantining and a general increase in patient volume, according to Emergency Medical Services Medical Director Dr. Erica Carney.

“The combination of all three of these things has led to an unprecedented capacity issue for our region,” Carney said. “As healthcare workers, we are no longer the frontline. And the community, you guys now are the frontline.”

Similar restrictions were imposed Monday by Jackson County and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas. Like Kansas City's restrictions, they go into effect this Friday.

The Kansas City region is averaging 4,628 new cases a week, according to the Mid-America Regional Council. More than 900 people in the area have died from COVID-19, and the metro’s seven-day average of daily new hospitalizations saw a record high of 168 Sunday.

Kansas City Police Department officers will be required to wear masks under this order. During a recent Board of Police Commissioners meeting, Kansas City community members complained that some officers weren’t wearing masks.

If Kansas City continues to see surging case numbers and reduced hospital capacity, public health directors may push for “more drastic orders,” according to Friday’s letter.

Lucas said the restrictions will be enforced by KCPD and the health department. The requirement for restaurants to report COVID-19 cases was the result of some businesses not alerting the city to previous outbreaks.

“I get more messages than anyone would think from folks that work at a restaurant and say, ‘we had an outbreak, but they didn't report it to your health department,’” Lucas said. “That is, in many ways, unconscionable.”

People can report violations by calling 311 or emailing COVIDViolations@kcmo.org.

Across the state, cities and counties are dealing with a rise in cases. St. Louis County is putting in place further COVID-19 restrictions, like getting rid of indoor dining at bars and restaurants and having businesses operate at no more than 25% capacity. Columbia and Boone County recently extended health orders that restrict large gatherings.

In Johnson County, Kansas, new restrictions including physical distancing guidelines and earlier closing hours for bars and restaurants took effect Monday. Johnson County’s guidelines are less restrictive -- bars and restaurants will be required to close at midnight.

Many Missouri colleges are ending in-person classes at Thanksgiving break to prevent students from coming back to campus after traveling to areas with potentially higher levels of community transmission.

Missouri has an average of 3,650 new cases a day with a positivity rate of 24%, according to CDC calculations. Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services' director is imploring people to get a flu shot to help decrease the strain on hospitals.

“Help your loved ones by continuing to physically distance, wear masks, use hand sanitizer and avoid congregating indoors when possible, even during the holidays,” Dr. Randall Williams said in a statement Saturday.

Frontline hospital workers are struggling to handle the surge in cases across the state, according to a Friday letter from the Missouri Hospital Association’s president and CEO to Gov. Mike Parson.

“The duration and intensity of the effort is exhausting the ranks of frontline workers,” Herb Kuhn said. “For them, the second wave of the disease is more daunting than the first, even if they are better equipped with personal protective equipment, ventilators and new therapeutics than they were at the outset of the pandemic.”

The Missouri Hospital Association urged the governor to institute a statewide mask mandate, something Parson has so far resisted, saying local leaders are best suited to determine the needs of their community.

“The wolf is at the door,” Kuhn wrote. “... A mask mandate may be unappealing to some to some, but it has become necessary.”

Aviva Okeson-Haberman was the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3.
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