Lo­cal of­fi­cials ex­plain or­der to stay at home

The Kansas City Star - - Front Page - BY AL­LI­SON KITE [email protected]­star.com

The clear­est, most suc­cinct ver­sion of Kansas City area of­fi­cials’ mes­sage Sun­day im­plor­ing res­i­dents to stay home to limit the spread of the novel coro­n­avirus came from Jack­son County Ex­ec­u­tive Frank White, Jr.

“Stay strong, stay safe and stay home,” White said.

White made the plea Sun­day at Union Sta­tion, where he stood along­side of­fi­cials from Kansas City and John­son and Wyan­dotte coun­ties as they took ques­tions about the stay at home or­der is­sued the day be­fore.

The or­der, is­sued on the au­thor­ity of each ju­ris­dic­tion act­ing in con­cert, goes into ef­fect across the Kansas City re­gion at 12:01 a.m. Tues­day and re­quires res­i­dents to stay home un­less they are ven­tur­ing out for ac­tiv­i­ties “es­sen­tial to the health and safety” of them­selves, fam­ily mem­bers or friends, such as get­ting med­i­cal at­ten­tion or food.

It will be in ef­fect for 30 days as health of­fi­cials mon­i­tor the spread of coro­n­avirus, or COVID-19. As of Sun­day, more than 32,000 cases of the virus had been iden­ti­fied across the U.S., ac­cord­ing to Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity. At least 400 peo­ple have died from it.

White and the other of­fi­cials con­vened for the ex­tra­or­di­nary news con­fer­ence Sun­day to pro­vide clar­ity on the stay-at-home or­der and make sure their mes­sage is clear: this mea­sure is nec­es­sary to save lives. Kansas City Mayor Quin­ton Lu­cas an­swered ques­tions via Face­book Live ear­lier in the day.

“With­out these ef­forts, we be­lieve the spread will con­tinue and our health­care systems will be over­bur­dened,” said K. Allen Greiner, chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer for

the Uni­fied Govern­ment of Wyan­dotte County and Kansas City, Kansas.

The sweep­ing or­der in­structs res­i­dents to stay home un­less they are per­form­ing es­sen­tial ac­tiv­i­ties, which in­clude ob­tain­ing medicine or med­i­cal care, get­ting food or house­hold sup­plies, en­gag­ing in out­door ac­tiv­i­ties while ob­serv­ing proper so­cial-dis­tanc­ing, go­ing to work or car­ing for fam­ily mem­bers. Busi­nesses are to “cease all in-per­son op­er­a­tions” un­less the or­ga­ni­za­tion is deemed “es­sen­tial.”

The or­der is the lat­est in a series of es­ca­lat­ing steps meant to limit the spread of the virus, which as of Satur­day had been found in at least 90 peo­ple in Mis­souri and more than 60 in Kansas.

Lu­cas barred restau­rants from serv­ing dine-in cus­tomers and sus­pended gath­er­ings of more than 10 peo­ple early last week. He first de­clared an emer­gency March 12.

White said those who acted quickly and de­ci­sively saved lives.

“We are united by the nec­es­sary ac­tions we have taken to sup­port and pro­tect the peo­ple of our com­mu­ni­ties — most im­por­tantly those who are the most vul­ner­a­ble,” White said. “We will emerge from this stronger, bet­ter and more united than ever.”

At the news con­fer­ence, Rod­ney Ham­mer with the Blue River–Kansas City Bap­tist As­so­ci­a­tion asked that churches be added to the list of es­sen­tial ac­tiv­i­ties so they can con­vene while ob­serv­ing so­cial dis­tanc­ing. He said they may need more than 10 staff mem­bers just to op­er­ate a live stream.

White said the of­fi­cials could look into it, and Ed Eil­ert, chair­man of the John­son County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers, noted church staff mem­bers could still con­tinue op­er­a­tions as long as they’re not gath­ered in groups of more than 10.

But Greiner said seek­ing ex­emp­tions to the or­der “is not go­ing to save lives.”

“Stay­ing home is go­ing to save lives…We need to think about what’s the safest thing,” Greiner said. “And to try to find ways to get 10 peo­ple to­gether in a park or oth­er­wise is not go­ing to save lives, and it’s not go­ing to help our hospi­tals from ending up com­pletely full of peo­ple and hav­ing peo­ple dy­ing in emer­gency rooms be­cause we don’t have enough equip­ment to keep very, very sick peo­ple alive.”

THE STAY-AT-HOME OR­DER

The “CORE4” of Wyan­dotte, John­son and Jack­son

coun­ties and the city of Kansas City is­sued their or­ders to­gether Satur­day. On Sun­day, Leav­en­worth County in Kansas and Platte County in Mis­souri fol­lowed suit.

Greiner said the move was es­sen­tial to limit the coro­n­avirus spread be­cause the Kansas City area has “had a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem with re­gional test­ing ca­pac­ity.”

“Part of the ur­gency of this stay-at-home or­der is that with­out the abil­ity to do test­ing widely across the pop­u­la­tion and test ab­so­lutely ev­ery­one who has symp­toms — like fever, cough, short­ness of breath — we need to re­duce the spread this way be­cause it’s un­likely we’ll be able to test every­body and know who has it and who doesn’t,” Greiner said.

Un­der the or­der, res­i­dents can still par­tic­i­pate in “es­sen­tial ac­tiv­i­ties.” That means they can go to work if their em­ployer is deemed an es­sen­tial busi­ness. Gro­cery stores are open. Restau­rants can ful­fill pick-up, drive-thru and de­liv­ery or­ders but are barred from serv­ing dine-in cus­tomers.

Wed­dings, fu­ner­als and sim­i­lar cer­e­mo­nial ser­vices are not con­sid­ered es­sen­tial ac­tiv­i­ties.

Lu­cas said it was “heart­break­ing” to him that fu­ner­als and wed­dings can­not be held as usual. Fu­ner­als, he said, fre­quently are at­tended by at-risk pop­u­la­tions. So­cial dis­tanc­ing has to be ob­served in such cases.

The busi­nesses deemed “es­sen­tial” and al­lowed to con­tinue in-per­son op­er­a­tions and nu­mer­ous and de­fined broadly. They in­clude banks and fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions; health care or­ga­ni­za­tions; gro­cery sto­ries and phar­ma­cies; home main­te­nance work­ers, such as elec­tri­cians and plumbers; mail­ing and shipping ser­vices and busi­nesses that sup­ply es­sen­tial busi­nesses.

Res­i­dents are or­dered to ob­serve so­cial dis­tanc­ing re­quire­ments, which in­clude stay­ing six feet away from other in­di­vid­u­als, wash­ing hands fre­quently and for at least 20 sec­onds or us­ing hand san­i­tizer, clean­ing sur­faces and not shak­ing hands.

“What we clearly know about COVID-19 tells us that we need to take this ac­tion,” said David Alvey, Mayor of the Uni­fied Govern­ment of Wyan­dotte County.

Alvey noted of­fi­cials have been ac­cused of act­ing out of fear. He said he will “freely ad­mit” he fears for the health and safety of the com­mu­nity.

“We ex­pe­ri­ence well­founded fear, but we do not cower, and we do not hide. That is not the spirit of Wyan­dotte County or of the Kansas City re­gion,” he said.

The or­ders should be largely self-en­forced, Lu­cas said. The city would seek to use agen­cies such as the depart­ment of reg­u­lated in­dus­tries and the health depart­ment as nec­es­sary.

Break­ing the rules of the or­der, how­ever, in Kansas City is con­sid­ered an or­di­nance vi­o­la­tion, pun­ish­able by up to $500 fine and up to 6 months in jail.

“In terms of po­lice in­volve­ment . . . I do not want them in the po­si­tion of ask­ing peo­ple where they’re go­ing.”

Some pop­u­la­tions, such as the home­less, will be hurt worse dur­ing the pan­demic, Lu­cas said. He en­cour­aged lead­ers and in­di­vid­u­als to sup­port those at-risk groups.

“I en­cour­age any of you who has the op­por­tu­nity to pro­vide fi­nan­cial sup­port to do so,” he said.

WORK­ING AS A RE­GION

That of­fi­cials from all three coun­ties and Kansas City ap­peared to­gether was in part meant to demon­strate that lim­it­ing the coro­n­avirus spread would de­mand re­gional co­op­er­a­tion.

Lu­cas noted that the last time area lead­ers gath­ered at Union Sta­tion was for the Kansas City Chiefs’ Su­per Bowl pa­rade.

“At that time, we rec­og­nized that there were no lines,” Lu­cas said. “No­body was ask­ing if you were a fan from Kansas or Mis­souri or any­where else. We rec­og­nized that we stood as one and one com­mu­nity, and that’s why we’re back here to­day. In times of cel­e­bra­tion, in times of pain, in times of sac­ri­fice, we rec­og­nize that there aren’t lines — that our re­gional dis­tinc­tions or bound­aries or dif­fer­ent jobs or dif­fer­ent ti­tles mat­ter less be­cause pub­lic safety, pub­lic health, our com­mu­nity’s sur­vival are so im­por­tant.”

Lu­cas said he is of­ten asked when the cri­sis will end, but that he doesn’t know.

“What we know is that we’re go­ing to do what is nec­es­sary to make sure our com­mu­nity is safe,” he said. “There’s no rea­son to go out and hoard. There’s no rea­son to go out and fight oth­ers.”

Though there are many busi­ness sec­tors deemed es­sen­tial, Eil­ert said he hopes those or­ga­ni­za­tions would work with their em­ploy­ees to en­sure safety.

“This is se­ri­ous, and it’s only with the to­tal co­op­er­a­tion of our com­mu­nity . . . can we be suc­cess­ful in mit­i­gat­ing the spread,” Eil­ert said.

“To­gether we can make a dif­fer­ence in the is­sues and the chal­lenges that we face to­day.”

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