Alex Smith | KCUR

Alex Smith

Health Reporter

Alex started out in college studying music composition, but worried about making too much money as a composer, he switched to journalism. Alex won a national Edward R Murrow award in 2017 and a regional Murrow in 2018. He's part of a national health reporting collaborative led by NPR and Kaiser Health News. In 2015, Alex produced "Crossing To Health," an award-winning, in-depth series about health disparities in Kansas. Alex lives in Kansas City with his wife, Gina Kaufmann. He takes time everyday to jam on guitars or the piano with their 2-year-old.

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In the past several weeks, as metro Kansas City began working to avoid being overwhelmed by Covid-19 like big cities elsewhere, rural places like Wright County in southern Missouri have been barely touched by the disease.

But Wright County family physician Dr. David Barbe, along with other health care providers who work in remote parts of the state, have been pleading with Gov. Mike Parson to force their patients and neighbors to shelter in place.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

After initially lagging behind many other parts of the country, the COVID-19 case numbers in Kansas and Missouri are now rising rapidly each day.

While this undoubtedly means more people are getting sick, it’s unclear exactly what the infection trends are in both states. That's due to inconsistent testing and lack of complete numbers.

The two states' total cases, as reported on Friday:

Julie Denesha / KCUR

As COVID-19 begins to spread in the Kansas City area, health care workers and hospitals say they are struggling with a lack of resources as they try to prepare for a potentially huge demand for care.

Citing concerns about shortage of both medical equipment and staff, the Missouri State Medical Association this week sent a letter to Gov. Mike Parson urging him to issue a statewide “shelter-in-place” order.

Andy Marso / KCUR

Johnson County health officials scaled back testing for coronavirus this week after determining that the county has community transmission.

Dr. Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, says the state needs to prioritize testing in other places due to limited test supplies. But some public experts say the move will limit efforts to combat COVID-19.

File photo by Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Normally, most people wouldn’t give much thought to a minor cough or slight fever in March. But March 2020 hasn’t been like other years.

In the midst of a global pandemic, signs of illness can seem alarming, but Dr. Dana Hawkinson, infectious disease specialist at the University of Kansas Health Systems, says a little knowledge and common sense can help, whatever the illness might turn out to be.

If a cough or fever have you worried, here’s what you need to know.

Associated Press

Seven people in Kansas and Missouri have tested positive for coronavirus as of Thursday, with one of those — a man in his 70s living in a long-term care facility in Wyandotte County — dead from the disease. 

The relatively low instances of infection in the region would indicate that so far, the two states seem hardly touched by the growing global pandemic.

Jim McLean / Kansas News Service

Update: 7:30 p.m.

A 70-year-old man who lived in a long-term care facility in Wyandotte County is the first known death from the new coronavirus in Kansas, state officials said Thursday night.

Kansas also has declared a state of emergency, which gives the government more power to marshal resources and triggers the state's response plan.

University of Missouri

UMKC joined several other of the Kansas City's region's universities Thursday in announcing students would move to online-only coursework in order to limit the spread of the new coronavirus. 

Though no cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, have been confirmed in Kansas City, Missouri, UMKC officials said in a statement "we are doing our part to limit exposure to our campus family and to limit the spread of the disease."

Alex Smith / KCUR

Update: 2:30 p.m. Monday 

Kansas’ single confirmed coronavirus patient has been admitted to the University of Kansas Health Systems hospital.

The Johnson County woman, who was announced to have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus on Saturday, was admitted to the Kansas City, Kansas, hospital after self-isolating at home.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

As the United States struggled with a crisis of addiction to opioids and other drugs over the past few years, scientists began to learn how addiction and loneliness can feed one another.

That was true for the Kansas City women in recovery whose stories support researchers’ findings about how loneliness and addiction work together to create a downward spiral.

“It isolated me from my family,” Monica says of her addiction. “They did not want to be bothered with me because of my behaviors. It caused me to lose good friends.”

Alex Smith / KCUR

As the community spread of the coronavirus appears to be accelerating in Seattle and other parts of the United States, Kansas City civic leaders and health experts insist the area is prepared for the problem.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and health department head Rex Archer met with police and fire departments and local health providers on Tuesday to coordinate their efforts and encourage local residents to take steps as well.

Associated Press

The possibility of the new coronavirus spreading in the U.S. has alarmed many people, but Kansas City-area health officials say they are prepared — to a point.

File photo by Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Taxpayers in Kansas City, Missouri, have a chance between now and March 3 to influence how the city spends their money.

Mayor Quinton Lucas released his proposed budget last week. The budget prioritizes fighting violent crime, increasing the city’s stock of affordable housing and fixing potholes, but it falls roughly $3 million short of another of the mayor's priorities: eliminating bus fares.

KCUR 89.3 file photo

As city and state governments across the country legalize marijuana, Kansas City’s mayor wants to make it easier to clean the slate for people convicted of some cannabis-related offenses.

Mayor Quinton Lucas introduced an online system Tuesday afternoon that lets people convicted on municipal marijuana possession charges in Kansas City ask for pardons — free of charge.

“What I want to be able to do for these folks is to say, ‘You might’ve made a mistake at some point, but that we’re going to be fair in how we apply the law in Kansas City and in Missouri,’” Lucas said.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

Kansas City will be a sea of red as Chiefs fans get a chance to celebrate the team’s victory with a parade and rally on Wednesday. 

KCUR 89.3 file photo

The Kansas City metro area, and a couple of cities just outside of it, will soon have 45 medical marijuana dispensaries. 

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services issued dispensary licenses Thursday, marking a major milepost since voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that legalized medical marijuana. 

Chris Neal

The KCUR news staff presents the State of Kansas City series as a look ahead to 2020 on topics of importance to the region. Find the State of Kansas City report on other topics in the series as they are published each weekday, Jan. 6–Jan. 20. Follow coverage on these topics at KCUR.org and on 89.3 FM throughout the year.

Health care — who gets it, who doesn’t, and how we pay for it — will command as much attention in Missouri and Kansas politics this year as on the national scene.

How To Be Less Lonely

Dec 23, 2019
Alex Smith / KCUR

A nationwide campaign is looking for solutions to loneliness.

For some of us, the holidays are full of family and friends. But this can also a lonely time of year for many. Health experts say loneliness can be hazardous to our health, though, and researchers in the United Kingdom are taking it seriously.

Join KCUR health reporter Alex Smith for an exploration of the UK's national program to address loneliness and find out what we in the Midwest can learn about fixing the problem.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Some common heart procedures may be more common than they should be, a large-scale study led in part by a Kansas City doctor suggests.

The study, which involved nearly 5,200 patients in 37 countries, found that, in some situations, heart disease patients who received invasive treatment such as stents fared no better than those who got less invasive treatment.

Alex Smith / KCUR

Starting treatment with a mental health specialist often requires a wait of several weeks, but many psychiatrists and other specialists in Kansas City have waiting lists stretching over months.

While the need for mental health treatment has been growing in Missouri, many patient advocates say the state’s refusal to aggressively enforce mental health parity may be making the wait times even longer.

Marty Sexton, a 50-year-old disabled grandfather who lives in Peculiar, worked as a firefighter and then an army medic in Operations Desert Storm, Desert Shield and Enduring Freedom.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

When children are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, stimulant medications like Ritalin are usually the first line of treatment.

Doctors recently issued new guidelines that mostly uphold the role of those medications, but many experts argue that other effective behavioral treatment methods are being ignored.

When children are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, stimulant medications like Ritalin or Adderall are usually the first line of treatment.

Lori Pinkley, a 50-year-old from Kansas City, Mo., has struggled with puzzling chronic pain since she was 15.

She's had endless disappointing visits with doctors. Some said they couldn't help her. Others diagnosed her with everything from fibromyalgia to lipedema to the rare Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

It took years for advocates to get medical marijuana legalized in Missouri, but when it’s finally available in 2020, they may face an even tougher challenge: paying for it.

Ashley Markum of Rogersville, Missouri, the mother of a young son who takes CBD to control seizures, was heavily involved in the legalization push. This year, she helped start a charity called Ayden’s Alliance to help families like hers take on what’s likely to be the high costs of treatment. 

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat representing Kansas’s 3rd District, and other state lawmakers said that they support the Second Amendment but called gun violence a public health crisis at a public event on Saturday.

Davids hosted a gun safety roundtable discussion at Matt Ross Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas, where she and advocates attempted to steer clear of controversy to focus on evidence-based ways of addressing gun suicide, improving school safety and supporting people with mental illness.

Jackson County, Missouri, and Kansas City Area Transportation Authority

A major Rails-To-Trails cycling project in eastern Jackson County, Missouri, that’s been years in the making is suddenly in limbo following a decision this week by the federal government.

On Wednesday, Jackson County stopped construction of the Rock Island bike trail after the federal Surface Transportation Board revoked the county’s authority to operate the one-time railroad corridor.

The Washington Post

A newly released database shows that Leavenworth County, Kansas, had one of the highest concentrations of opioid pills per person in the United States between 2006 and 2012.

While those numbers might suggest a hidden calamity in eastern Kansas, the vast majority of those pills were actually processed by a Veteran’s Administration fullfillment center, rather than distributed locally, according to the data.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

Vaccinations not only protect your health, they protect the health of the community by slowing or stopping the spread of illness.

But Missouri now has some of the lowest measles vaccination rates in the nation, and that’s especially troubling for families with children who can’t get the shots for medical reasons.

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

When Porter Hall of Raymore, Missouri, was a year old, he broke out in hives after eating a spoonful of peanut butter. It led to a scary night in the emergency room and a diagnosis of peanut allergy.

But today, Porter, who’s now five, is giving peanuts another shot with the help of Kansas City doctors, who have been giving him tiny doses of peanuts over the course of months.

This oral immunotherapy treatment isn’t a cure, but doctors say these tiny exposures may help to reduce or prevent severe reactions – although some critics are warning families to consider the risks. 

Alex Smith / KCUR 89.3

There’s a do-it-yourself movement that’s been spreading across the United Kingdom, but it’s not led by artisan hipsters or first-time homeowners.

It’s part of the country’s nationwide campaign to address loneliness, and experts think it may hold some important clues for fixing a tricky and potentially life-threatening problem.

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