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Pandemic Fears Disrupt Public Life In Kansas City; Mayor Limits Events To Less Than 50 People

Peggy Lowe
KCUR 89.3
Readers at the Kansas City Central Library spend the last few hours there before its temporary shutdown, ordered on Sunday.

Church services were live-streamed, libraries and other gathering places emptied out and people huddled at home on Sunday, as fears of the coronavirus pandemic placed further limits on public life in Kansas City.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who issued a state of emergency last week that barred gatherings of larger than 1,000 people, decried reports of full bars in Westport on Saturday night, urging young people to take social distancing seriously.

By 7:45 p.m. Sunday, Lucas had mandated that all gatherings or events were limited to under 50 people for the next eight weeks.

That sentiment was echoed by neighborhood group Downtown KC in a separate tweet: “Do it KC. Stay home even if you are young and healthy. Do it for your community's sake." 

Kansas City, Missouri, officials will meet Monday for a closed briefing on the city’s latest COVID-19 preparedness plan. The meeting comes as states across the country take more drastic measures to stop the spread of the virus.  

(For an update on confirmed cases in Kansas and Missouri, click here for KCUR's live coverage of the coronavirus.)

On Sunday, several states, including Illinois, Ohio and California ordered bars and restaurants statewide be shut down, and the hashtag #CloseTheBars trended on Twitter.

Lucas' mandate was a significant about-face from last week when he was asked whether young, healthy people should avoid going out to the city’s entertainment districts. At that time, Lucas said his declaration was "not a mass quarantine."

The Kansas City Public Library shut all 10 of its locations until further notice on Sunday, putting many homeless back out on the street on a day temperatures were in the 30s and further eroding Internet access to those who use the library's free public wifi.

Denver Williams, 19, who just moved to Kansas City from Alaska, was at his laptop in the Central Library downtown on Sunday and said he would have to try to find coffee shops that offer free wireless.

“It’s kind of a bummer, but it’s kind of, ‘We have an outbreak,’ so it’s understandable what they’re trying to do,” he said.  

Sports bars were sparsely populated on what is usually Selection Sunday, when the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament brackets are unveiled on live TV. All major sporting events, including regular season games for the National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer, have all been suspended. 

At Johnny’s Tavern in the Power & Light District, a few customers sat scattered around the tables. The bar's big screens were re-airing the Kansas City Chiefs' Super Bowl victory from last month.

Meanwhile, worship services across the metro were down to a few dozen at many churches, while most of the faithful stayed home. Some watched services online, on their couches. Board games were dusted off, movie lists traded and parents of youngsters dreaded the test of their patience with another viewing of Frozen 2.

Credit Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
The gift shop at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Kansas City was closed Sunday because of the caronavirus.

Just three dozen people attended 9 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Kansas City on Sunday.

Friends greeted each other with a shake of an elbow before the service, and Bishop James Johnston set new guidelines for interaction.

Only priests would be allowed to drink sacrificial wine from the chalice, Johnston said, and he urged people to take Holy Communion in their hands rather than having him place it on their tongues.

“This is a good time to think about how to receive the Lord,” he said.  

Holy water fonts were dry, physical contact was suspended and the sign of peace, usually a hand shake or hug done just before communion, was dropped.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph issued a directive March 13 that dispenses people from the obligation of Sunday Mass if they were exposed to the coronavirus or feel, in conscience, that they may be endangered by COVID-19 by their presence in a group of people.”  

Another sign that life as many Kansas Citians have known it is changing. 

Peggy Lowe is an investigative reporter at KCUR and the Marketplace hub reporter. She's on Twitter at @peggyllowe.

Lisa Rodriguez is KCUR's afternoon anchor and Kansas City City Hall reporter. She's on Twitter @larodrig.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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