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Kansas City, Missouri, And Independence Call States Of Emergency Amid Growing Coronavirus Concerns

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File photo by Lisa Rodriguez
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KCUR 89.3
Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas declared a state of emergency Thursday to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas on Thursday morning declared a 21-day state of emergency in the city to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

“We’re not trying to be alarmist, we’re not trying to concern folks. What we’re trying to say is how can we make sure that we don’t see a significant impact before we can handle it here in Kansas City,” Lucas said.

In a statement posted to Twitter, Lucas wrote that "all events with more than 1,000 attendees within the city are canceled or delayed until the emergency has been lifted."

Soon after, officials with the Big 12 conference canceled the men's and women's basketball tournaments in downtown Kansas City.

In a press conference later, Lucas said he understands frustration over not being able to attend sporting events, concerts or other large gatherings.

“Trust me, we are in the business of collecting tax revenues and that sort of thing, so we don’t come to these decisions lightly. But we understand that it’s vital that we take an important leadership position on prevention,” Lucas said.

Lucas has also put a moratorium on all "non-essential travel for City employees until the emergency has been lifted."

As of Thursday, schools in Kansas City remain open. Churches with large congregations are encouraged to use their discretion on whether to cancel services. Private businesses with offices of 1000-plus people are not affected by the ban on large events.   

Kansas City, Missouri, currently has no confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but health officials say spread to Kansas City is inevitable. 

"We're working diligently across departments to prevent potential spread — and we're asking our community members and business owners to do their part in helping to prevent potential spread," Lucas said.

Dr. Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City Health Department says the city has tested fewer than a dozen people for the virus and none have tested presumptive positive.  

Still, Archer told reporters Thursday he believes it is likely that there are already mild, undiagnosed cases in Kansas City. He’s encouraging people not to shake hands and even discourages fist-bumps and elbow taps, as bacteria can still be transferred.  

“Think about just greeting people with the hand over the heart or a namaste. We need to break this cycle to keep this virus from moving around,” Archer said.  

Under a state of emergency, the city has the power to enact a curfew, bar the sale of liquor or close businesses, but Lucas said he has no plans to take any of those measures at this point. 

Kansas City buses and Kansas City International Airport remain open. 

"Protecting all of our residents remains our top priority, which means that how we interact over the weeks and months ahead will need to change dramatically as we confront our current public health challenge," Lucas said. "I appreciate our community's understanding during this ever-changing time and encourage all residents to continue exercising good judgment." 

Archer said that the precautions the city took Thursday will help prevent the spread of the virus, but they will not protect the most vulnerable people from contracting it. 

Still, Lucas said people who are young and healthy do not need to avoid gathering in groups.

“This isn’t a mass quarantine or the area,” Lucas said.

Independence Mayor Eileen Weir also declared a state of emergency in her city Thursday.

“We have detailed emergency plans in place for each of our departments and with this declaration these emergency operation plans have been activated," Weir said. "We will make a detailed announcement tomorrow with the changes citizens and the public will see to City services and operations.”

Late Thursday afternoon, Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr., announced that the Kansas City state of emergency would expand to all of Jackson County. The executive order calls for no large group events of 1,000 or more people and applies to all of Jackson County except for the City of Kansas City.

"We will continue to closely monitor the situation in collaboration with local, regional and national health experts, who will help guide our response to this quickly changing situation," White said. 

Lisa Rodriguez is KCUR's afternoon newscaster and City Hall reporter. 

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