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Leaders Throughout Metro Kansas City Tell People To 'Stay At Home' Beginning Tuesday

Laura Ziegler
KCUR 89.3
Wyandotte County Mayor and CEO David Alvey, at the microphone, was among metro-area leaders announcing a joint stay-at-home order on Sunday.

Updated: Monday, March 23, 4:06 p.m.

In the metro area's ongoing effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, residents of Kansas City and Jackson, Clay 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.

On Sunday afternoon, Johnson County Public Health Officer Dr. Joseph LeMaster said the area had moved beyond the "containment phase," in which health professionals try to find out who has tested positive, locate their contacts and quarantine them.

"Once you get to the point where you have multiple cases that are not related to each other, then … contact tracing is not going to help you contain what's going on," LeMaster said.

"Then you move to something we call the stage of mitigation, in which we're doing other types of actions to try and reduce the transmission in the community because we know it's in the community and it's being passed between people. We are in the mitigation phase," he said.

Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Johnson County Public Health Officer Joseph LeMaster, left, Johnson County Commission Chair Ed Eilert, and Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department Director Dr. Rex Archer practiced social distancing at a news conference on Sunday.

Starting on Tuesday, people may leave their homes to perform essential activities and deliver essential services.

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.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas had already issued a state of emergency prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people. On Saturday afternoon, he extended that order, telling people to stay at home except "to perform 'essential activities.'"

The order defined essential activities as "tasks essential to (people's) health and safety, or to the health and safety of their family or household members (including, but not limited to, pets), or close personal acquaintances."

A long list of essential businesses included grocery stores, food banks, convenience stores and other businesses that sell food and groceries, as well as businesses that provide shelter, social services "and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals."

Public transportation, Amtrak and Kansas City International Airport remain open, with extra cleaning and sanitizing and mandatory distancing, with some seats blocked. Some bus routes may also be reduced.

Examples of non-essential activities included "weddings, funerals, wakes, memorial services, or similar gatherings."

"I understand the financial and emotional toll this virus has taken on Kansas City families and businesses, and I am working my hardest to create every opportunity possible to ease some of this financial burden," Lucas said in a statement on Saturday. "We have suspended all water and electricity shut-offs and have issued a moratorium on evictions, but I know our work for those struggling most continues."

Health officials said they would measure the success of mitigation efforts based on bed capacity in hospitals and availability of ventilators.

Dr. Allen Greiner, health officer for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, said public health officials and hospitals are frustrated with a lack of testing resources. Without enough testing, he said, it's impossible to adequately monitor the transmission of the virus.

The Sharon Lee Family Health Clinic, at 340 Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City, Kansas, has opened a drive-through COVID testing site.

"People that come to be tested are supposed to come having talked to their primary care doctor, with a prescription," clinic founder Sharon Lee told KCUR 89.3. "If they don’t have a primary care doctor, we set up the hotline, which is for the whole metropolitan area. The number is 913-396-7070. Anybody can call and get information."

Lee said the clinic could schedule people for testing if they need it.

"People need to understand that the testing is extremely limited and so we are following the guidelines from the state about who qualifies for testing," Lee said.

The Unified Government's website also allows people to report their symptoms. Greiner said residents from anywhere in the metro are invited to self-report and they will be directed to the appropriate health department.

Johnson County Commission Chair Ed Eilert said the county had established a hotline for questions about the executive order, including what constitutes "essential services" and where to report symptoms. Eilert said the hotline, 913-715-5000, is operational 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays.

The order was similar throughout the metro, but leaders advised checking each jurisdiction's website for specific information:

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify the process to get a COVID-19 test at the Sharon Lee Family Health Clinic at 340 Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City, Kansas.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @laurazig.

C.J. Janovy is the digital managing editor at KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.

Chris Haxel is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email him at chaxel@kcur.org, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisHaxel.

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