Mayor: Kansas City prepared for outbreak of coronavirus
Kansas City does not have any confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, but it’s “inevitable” that it will, the city’s top public health official, Rex Archer, said Tuesday.
Archer took part in a news conference with Mayor Quinton Lucas and Erica Carney, the medical director of the city’s Emergency Medical Services department. They said city officials are working with state and federal health authorities and monitoring the spread of the disease, which has killed thousands worldwide.
Unless circumstances change, Lucas said, Kansas City does not anticipate altering plans for next week’s Big 12 basketball tournament at the Sprint Center. The city also doesn’t plan to have residents wear gloves or make any other changes to Missouri’s presidential primary election scheduled for March 10.
Carney said many area health providers are prescreening patients for symptoms, including coughing and respiratory distress. Lucas said the city is preparing contingency plans if 911 calls rise.
But at this point, Lucas said, most of the preparation involves meetings and communication.
“We are prepared, and we are preparing every day, working across departments in our city, but also making sure we’re working with state and federal agencies,” Lucas said.
Archer likened such outbreaks to hurricanes in that they can vary in severity.
“Hurricanes sometimes change before they hit the coast, so we will adjust, we will change,” Archer said. “We will not overreact; we will not underreact.”
Kansas City International Airport is not screening passengers, Aviation Director Pat Klein said, because it does not have direct flights to any countries that have had severe outbreaks. Airports that do fly those routes are screening passengers, he said.
Joe McBride, public information officer for KCI, said the airport had stocked up on supplies, boosted its cleaning efforts and ensured that concessionaries and airlines had done the same.
Archer said that timely testing had been an issue around the country but that he was starting to see more labs “come online” to help test for the disease. In Kansas City, he said, the health department can draw and send samples to labs.
In the meantime, Lucas, Archer and Carney, urged residents to take precautions, including washing their hands.
“I’m asking for people a moratorium of handshaking,” Archer said.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, also took part in a briefing on the virus on Tuesday. He said the state is “very well-prpeared if a coronavirus outbreak were to happen in Missouri.”
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, said on the Senate floor Tuesday that he was “confident we’re going to have the resources to deal with this.”
“But our job right now is to prepare for the worst things that could happen with having the funding available so that we don’t have to go through a couple of weeks again where an easy determination should have been reached,” Blunt said.
U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Kansas City), however, said the country was “woefully unprepared.”
“We’ve got to figure out ways we can be prepared because it’s not going to be the last pandemic,” Cleaver said.
Cleaver also suggested cities should have separate facilities for coronavirus patients so that the virus doesn’t spread within the walls of hospitals.
“If it’s announced tomorrow that 16 people in Kansas City have the virus, we don’t have anywhere in place. … We need to ask the governors of every state to put a plan together,” he said.
Coronavirus, or COVID-19, originated last year in Wuhan, China, and has since spread across the world. The illness has infected 92,000 people globally and killed 3,100, The Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
The death toll in the U.S. climbed to nine on Tuesday, all in Washington state and most in a suburb of Seattle.
In the Kansas City area, two Black & Veatch employees are “self-isolating” after possible exposure to the virus. The company said in a statement Monday that it was taking steps “to ensure the safety and cleanliness of our work and public areas so that our professionals can return to work.”
Lucas said residents hoping to find out more can visit the city’s website, kcmo.gov, or text “COVID” to 888-777.