Kansas City Issues New COVID-19 Measures as Hospital Capacity Tightens

Bekah Swank

11/16/2020- Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Quinton Lucas

Photo by Andrei Stoica

City officials held a press conference today to announce an update to existing COVID-19 prevention orders. According to Mayor Quinton Lucas, the update is based on the recommendations issued last week by health department directors from six Kansas City metro counties.

The new version of the order, which goes into effect at 12:01 AM on Friday, November 20, is a response to growing concerns over ballooning COVID-19 cases in the Kansas City metro, along with the increasingly limited capacity of regional hospitals.

“We had 575 new cases between Thursday and Friday,” said Dr. Rex Archer, Kansas City Health Department Director. “ER beds are not set up to manage ICU patients or inpatient stay.” As a result, he said, “We could have substantial increased deaths, because we’re not able to get people to the care that they need.”

When asked whether field hospitals could handle the influx of new patients, Lucas agreed that this is a possibility, but Archer noted that “field hospitals will only work if you can then staff them,” and, “the problem is that the level of community spread is impacting the hospital employees so that they can’t staff the beds.”

“We’ve got increased volume just in general from the beginning of the pandemic,” added Dr. Erica Carney, Kansas City Director of Emergency Medical Services. “These patients take up hospital beds for much longer than other illnesses. We’ve got decreasing staff; our staff is out on quarantine and isolation. So the combination [of factors] has led to an unprecedented capacity issue for our region.”

New limitations in the updated order include a “recommendation of closure” for restaurants and bars at 10 p.m.; a requirement for all patrons to be seated while in bars and restaurants; and a 50 percent limit on the capacity of restaurants, bars, gyms, fitness centers, and “other recreational centers.” School sports and other school recreational activities are included in this measure. All other education and childcare activities are subject to a specific set of recommendations.

In addition, group gatherings will be limited to 10 people or fewer. Lucas and others emphasized that this guideline includes holiday gatherings, including those planned next week for Thanksgiving.

“Every wedding, every Thanksgiving, every large event is a potential for large community spread,” said Lucas.

For those who want to appeal the 10-person limit, the health department is setting up an online form that will allow people to request approval for a gathering that exceeds the limit. An approved gathering would be exempt from the 10-person rule.

The latest version of the order also eliminates the mask “exception” that was initially in place for essential workers, including police officers. Lucas said this exception was an unintentional consequence of the overall exemption for essential workers from initial COVID-19 containment measures. The exception for police officers was the subject of concern for many citizens who attended the most recent Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners meeting.

According to Lucas, violations of the bar and restaurant rules will be enforced by the health department, the Department of Regulated Industries, the police department, and the fire department, all of whom have the ability to enforce “relevant parts of those orders.” The city has also set up an enforcement tip line by email at covidviolations@kcmo.org or by phone at 311.

“We’ve followed up on about 3500 complaints so far,” Archer said. “And we expect that to continue.”

Under the updated order, business owners must report COVID-19 outbreaks to the health department or face consequences, including the possibility of business closure.

“We have had an issue with businesses not being forthcoming with COVID outbreaks. I think it’s incredibly disappointing,” Lucas said. “While I agree that we can try to lean on people’s best senses of kindness to their fellow man, it’s not working.”

Archer stated, however, that he believes social influence will help create compliance to the new order. “We really need everybody to get on board,” he said. “Otherwise, we can end up with much worse restrictions.”

“As healthcare workers, we are no longer the frontline,” Carney said. “In the community, you guys now are the front line. We ask you guys for your help.”

Published on: 11/17/2020