Leaders in Johnson County, Jackson County and Wyandotte County have announced new local health orders as a response to the surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations the last few weeks.
“COVID-19 is spiraling out of control in Kansas City right now,” said Rex Archer, Kansas City Health Department director at a press conference this afternoon, citing the 575 new cases between last Thursday and Friday.
Archer said the COVID-19 spread is impacting hospital staff who can’t staff the growing demand of hospital beds, causing a capacity issue for the hospitals in the region.
As a result, Mayor Quinton Lucas announced new guidelines for Kansas City that will take effect Friday Nov. 20.
Restaurants and bars must close at 10 p.m., decrease to 50% capacity and enforce social distancing and mask wearing unless eating or drinking. Any other indoor gatherings are limited to no more than 10 people. Any gatherings with more than 10 people will need to be requested and approved through the Kansas City Health Department.
Officials also suggested that people not take part in their traditional Thanksgiving gatherings as most of the increase in cases are from family gatherings and after holidays.
All businesses must also immediately report outbreaks to the Kansas City Health Department, which is something Rex Archer, Kansas City Health Department director said has been an issue.
Archer said the department has followed up on more than 3,400 complaints for COVID-19 safety violations at businesses. Officials say community members and employees can report order violations via email to the health department: COVIDViolations@kcmo.org
“When we change laws, we enforce them, but a lot of it is peer support and looking after each other and reminding folks,” Archer said. “We need everyone to get on board, otherwise we’ll face much worse restrictions.”
Previously, there was an exemption for emergency personnel and law enforcement from wearing masks, but Lucas’ new guidelines no longer exempts public safety from the mask mandate.
If Kansas City continues to see an increase in fatalities and continued capacity issues in hospitals, Lucas said further steps could be taken with more restrictive guidelines.
Beginning Nov. 16, Johnson County bars and restaurants must close by 12 a.m. and gatherings are limited to 50 people or 50% capacity, but anyone who wants to have a gathering with more people must submit a safety plan to the county for consideration. Schools and churches are exempt from the order.
The Unified Government Public Health Department’s new order beginning Friday Nov. 20 will lower capacity at businesses, restaurants and bars to 50%, have them close by 10 p.m., maintain social distancing and mask wearing, and restrict other gatherings to ten or fewer people except for governmental and judicial functions, healthcare facilities, private business or retail operations, religious and faith-based activities, weddings and funerals.
“With increasing COVID-19 rates in our area and local hospitals and public health experts warning of critical shortages in staffing and rooms as a result, we must undertake additional measures now to help slow the spread in our communities,” said Mayor David Alvey. “These actions today, along with the continued usage of masks and social distancing, will hopefully allow us to avoid additional restrictions in the future. As we enter the holiday season, let us commit to one another to neither get nor give the virus.”