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Nick’s Picks: Answering Your Questions During the Age of Coronavirus

Stay at Home, Be Smart and Be Patient

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Above image credit: "Kansas City Week in Review" host Nick Haines. (John McGrath | Flatland)

Here’s the week ahead in Kansas City to help you and your family manage this historic moment.

Missouri Stay-At-Home Order

Starting today, the entire state of Missouri is under a stay-at-home order. But don’t expect to see much change in the Kansas City area, which has been living under those restrictions since March 24.

In fact, Kansas City has more stringent rules than the statewide order announced by Gov. Mike Parson, which allows all businesses to operate as long as they follow social distancing measures, such as prohibiting gatherings of 10 people or more. Larger stores can remain open if they don’t exceed 10% of their authorized occupancy. 

The statewide order does not provide permission for currently closed businesses to reopen in Kansas City. If a local city has stricter rules, those emergency orders apply. 

When Will This Be Over?

The nation’s top doctor, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, is preparing Americans for the “hardest and saddest week” of their lives. President Trump says this will be a rough two weeks.  Are we in for a longer “rough” patch here? State-by-state projections from the Institute of Health Metrics at the University of Washington are getting a lot of attention. The latest projection is that Kansas won’t reach its peak until April 27. Missouri is projected to peak even later on May 18.  “Peak” is the point where are fewer fatalities and infection cases being recorded than the day before. 

How Do I Plan?

We put that question over the weekend to the “top doc” in Kansas. Dr. Lee Norman, who serves as Kansas Secretary of Health, says don’t plan on hosting any big events or rescheduling conferences, concerts and graduations until August. 

When Will I Get My Stimulus Check?

That’s definitely the question I am hearing most from KCPT viewers this week. So I went on a search for answers. The Department of the Treasury says 50 million and 70 million Americans will receive the payments through direct deposit by April 15. Those who earn the least will get the checks first. Those who earn the most may not see checks until May.

How Do You Claim Unemployment?

Tens of thousands of Kansas Citians are finding themselves jobless for the first time and struggling to work out how to claim unemployment benefits. Some people say the process has been surprisingly effortless. Others are infuriated that they’ve had to spend hours on hold trying to get through to someone who can offer them help. 

As you might imagine, the numbers of the newly unemployed have overwhelmed call centers in both states. This week, state officials in Kansas and Missouri say it will be a lot smoother for those seeking benefits. 

The Missouri Department of Labor has hired temporary workers and has authorized overtime for agency staff to help manage the increased workload. They say the best and fastest way to file a new claim is not by phone but online at UInteract.labor.mo.gov.

In Kansas, Gov. Laura Kelly says the state has doubled its call center capacity, extended hours and added phone lines. It’s also dispatched employees from other agencies to help out. Last week, the state was receiving an average 877,000 calls a day. As in Missouri, officials say the best way to apply for unemployment benefits is online at getkansasbenefits.gov.

If you do try the phone number, (800) 292-6333, the governor says you should not hang up. She says that hanging up just puts you at the back of the line when you call in again.

Some Companies Are Hiring

If you’re desperate to find a job, there are still a surprising number of Kansas City area companies still hiring. It may not be in your chosen field or position, but KC Career Network is constantly updating a new database of open jobs

A lot has changed about the job search process. Everything is online and you won’t have a chance to see a recruiter in person. Expect virtual interviews on platforms like Zoom or Skype.

Suspending Late Fees

Can we expect more programs this week that try to limit the financial pain many Kansas Citians are experiencing during this volatile moment?

Starting this week, Kansas City’s Water Department will not charge penalties on late water and sewer bills. Kansas City already stopped shutting off residential water service to customers. Waiving late fees takes that a step further. 

In addition, Kansas City has extended the deadline for paying the city’s earnings tax, until July 15.

Kansas has a statewide order banning residents from being evicted from their home or business.

Lawmakers Return

In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson has called back state lawmakers to Jefferson City. They will start meeting Wednesday to consider an emergency spending bill to help those hardest hit by the public health emergency. 

Kansas lawmakers don’t plan to return until April 27. Legislative leaders say that date could be delayed.

Mood Swings

Have you noticed how the weather can make a big difference in how you feel right now? Expect a mood boost Tuesday and Wednesday as local temperatures hit 80 degrees, before a drastic drop arrives Thursday. 

I’ve been watching news footage in the United Kingdom, where public sunbathing has been banned and police ordered to remove sunbathers from public spaces. How would people feel about that here? I was just at Loose Park, where dozens of Kansas Citians had shed most of their clothes in order to lie face up on a bright colored towel or soft blanket. Moreover, the tennis courts were still packed, despite signs saying they were closed due to COVID-19. A police cruiser moved slowly by, on one occasion, but did not intervene. 

Under the Radar

Thousands of local Sprint employees are learning this week how their lives may change now they’re officially owned by T-Mobile. That deal officially sealed last week. I just passed the Sprint campus and there’s been no signage changes. Then again, everyone at Sprint is working from home and most Sprint stores are shutdown, except those that do smartphone repair. 

If you’re a Sprint customer, don’t panic. Apparently, industry insiders say there’s no need to worry that things will change significantly in the short term.  T-Mobile has previously said that it will take about three years to fully integrate Sprint into its operations and network setup. 

Virtual Religious Holidays

Wednesday night marks the start of Passover, but area Jewish families are going to have to find new ways to celebrate the holiday that traditionally brings together large groups of friends and family over a seder meal. Christians will have to find new ways to celebrate Easter on Sunday. And what about all of those Easter egg hunts? Does the candy in virtual egg hunts taste as good as the real thing?

Ken Burns Returns

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith has advised Kansas Citians to, “Stay home and watch Netflix.” But there’s a lot of great TV watching to be had on public television. Fresh from telling the story of “Country Music,” filmmaker Ken Burns is back as he trains his camera on the history, science, stunning breakthroughs and ethical dilemmas of genetic research.  You can watch Burns’ latest epic, “The Gene,” Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. on KCPT. 

By the way, when you see a show like this, you may be left with the impression that all this amazing research work is taking place in expansive, high-tech labs on the East and West coasts. But there is impressive research underway in our own backyard. We asked Dennis Ridenour, who leads Kansas City’s research clearinghouse, BioNexusKC to come up with the top five ways Kansas City is contributing to genetic research. 

Missing First Fridays?

Someone just told me they were missing one of their favorite events in Kansas City, “First Fridays.” Well, apparently it has not gone away. In fact, you can now celebrate this local arts spectacle, this Friday and every Friday night. 

It’s now streaming 6 – 9 p.m. Fridays with artists showing off their work online. And you can even purchase art throughout the evening from the comfort of your couch. By the way, it is BYOB. Here’s the link if you want to experience First Fridays in lockdown: 

Farmers Markets

Some attractions are still opening as planned even under a public health emergency. On Saturday, the Overland Park Farmers Market reopens for the season, though with some changes to maintain social distance. It’s moving a few blocks up the road to the parking lot of the Matt Ross Community Center to allow for more spacing between stalls. 

Kansas City’s downtown City Market has still been operating every weekend. As they sell food, they are considered an essential service.

Gas Prices

You may have nowhere to go, but have you noticed the price of gas lately? You can fuel up for as little as $1.43 a gallon in some places in Kansas City. 

I know many of you haven’t had to put gas in your tank for several weeks, but according to GasBuddy, that’s 46 cents lower than this time last month and 77 cents lower than this time last year. 

Watch Nick Haines, Friday nights at 7:30 p.m. on KCPT’s primetime public affairs program, “Kansas City Week in Review.

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