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Nick’s Picks | Everything You Need to Know This Thanksgiving Week

Navigating a Pandemic Holiday in Safety and Style

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

Starting this Thanksgiving week, almost the entire metro is now blanketed under new emergency health restrictions.

Effective today, Clay and Platte counties will mirror business restrictions imposed last week in Kansas City and in Jackson and Wyandotte counties. 

Those rules include closing bars, restaurants and nightclubs at 10 p.m. They also impose 50% capacity limits on those businesses and limiting public gatherings to 10 people.

Johnson County enacted looser restrictions. But there are some local communities that have declined to make any changes.  

Cass County, which is home to the cities of Belton, Harrisonville and Pleasant Hill, has refused to adopt new constraints on businesses. And last week, Cass County commissioners applauded Missouri Gov. Mike Parson for not imposing a statewide mask mandate. 

Masks in Kansas

On Wednesday, a new statewide mask mandate goes into effect in Kansas. While Johnson and Wyandotte counties already require face coverings, there is no such requirement in most parts of Kansas. In fact, less than 30 of the state’s 105 counties have mask orders in place.

Under Gov. Laura Kelly’s new order, counties can still opt out of the emergency mask mandate if local elected leaders vote to remove themselves from the requirement by this Wednesday.

Restaurant Crisis

Curfews and capacity limits are making it tough for metro area bars and restaurants. Are we about to witness the biggest pushback yet on those restrictions? 

Longtime Westport business leader Bill Nigro contacted me over the weekend and said “watch for a legal challenge” to the new rules on Tuesday. He insists the bar and restaurant industry is “getting destroyed” and owners have no choice but to fight back.

While federal stimulus money could help local businesses, Congress is now on holiday recess with COVID-19 relief talks still at an impasse. 

Virus Stalls Lawmakers

Missouri lawmakers meeting in a second special session in Jefferson City are also at an impasse. But for different reasons. A COVID-19 outbreak has prompted a halt to the session. Legislators had been working on ways to spend more than $1 billion in federal relief money. They won’t return to finish their business until next week. 

When they do come back after Thanksgiving, look for them to also take up a bill that would shield nursing homes and businesses from virus related lawsuits.  

In other words, if you get sick from going to a restaurant or from hanging out in a hospital waiting room or your loved one dies from COVID-19 in an assisted living facility you won’t be able to sue.

Closed Classrooms

What a difference a week makes. As we head toward the Thanksgiving holiday, nearly every major public university in our region has now announced they’re halting in-person instruction, at least until January.

The same holds true for our metro’s biggest school districts.  Blue Valley, Olathe, Shawnee Mission, Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit are all ending in-person classes for middle and high school students. 

A number of districts cited a shortage of staff as the reason for the move.

Firefighter Funerals

Memorial services are scheduled for later this week for two Kansas City firefighters who died from COVID-19 over the weekend. 

Scott Davidson died Sunday morning. He was a paramedic and communications specialist.

On Saturday, Fire Capt. Bobby Rocha died after contracting the virus while on the job.

In all, three members of the Kansas City Fire Department have died from the coronavirus and 176 have tested positive. As of this weekend, 73 were still infected.

Thanksgiving Planning

How will your Thanksgiving holiday be different this week? Will you still get together with family members?

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas wants you to think twice. In fact, he’s being even more emphatic.  He has eight words for you, “Please don’t go home for Thanksgiving this year.”

He’s following advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that warns travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying at home, the agency claims “is the best way to protect yourself and others.”

It looks like many of us are already heeding that advice.  According to the Kansas City Aviation Department, passenger counts at Kansas City International Airport are projected to be down 55% compared to Thanksgiving week of 2019. 

That doesn’t mean people still won’t gather in large groups. A new nationwide survey out of Ohio State University found almost 40% of respondents said they plan to gather with at least 10 people for Thanksgiving. 

And now that we know Americans routinely lie to pollsters, the numbers are likely much higher.

That may reflect how our perceptions have changed since the pandemic began. In mid-April, about 37% of Americans said they were “very” concerned about catching COVID-19, according to data from the website FiveThirtyEight.  That has now dipped to less than 32%, despite the fact that case counts are now higher than they were in the spring.

Upending Holiday Traditions

The pandemic is upending another local holiday tradition. No crowds are allowed at this year’s Country Club Plaza lighting ceremony. It’s going to be a TV only event Thursday. It starts at 6 p.m. on KMBC.

The 90-year-old Plaza lighting ceremony isn’t the only big holiday event being forced to change. The lighting of the Mayor’s Christmas Tree outside of Crown Center is now a virtual only experience. 

You can watch Mayor Lucas flip the switch at 5:30 p.m. on Friday. The 30-minute event is being streamed on Crown Center’s website and Facebook page.

As an added incentive, you can watch Calvin Arsenia sing Silent Night and witness a special performance by aerial dance company, Quixotic. The event is free.

Bah Humbug

The pandemic is putting local arts organizations in a major bind. That includes the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, which was recently forced to cancel its biggest money maker, “A Christmas Carol.”

Now the theater is getting creative. Starting this week, you can watch a virtual version of the Charles Dickens classic. It’s being billed as a fireside storytelling production of the Scrooge story with four top KC Rep actors bringing to life a chapter of the book. 

It doesn’t come cheap. Your passcode to stream the performance is $65. But it’s helping a good cause — saving local theater.  For actor Gary Johnson, who plays Scrooge, this is the first paid gig he’s had since the pandemic began. 

Head to the Rep’s website to get the details.

Let There Be Lights 

If you prefer to experience holiday traditions in person, then there are a couple of events you’ll want to know about this week on both sides of state line.

This Wednesday night, Christmas in The Park returns to Longview Lake in Lee’s Summit.  This is a holiday drive-through light show put on by the Jackson County Parks Department. 

We can’t independently verify whether the number is accurate, but we’re told there are more than 500,000 lights and 175 animated figures. 

It starts the day before Thanksgiving at 5:30 p.m. and runs through 10 p.m. It will be open an hour later on weekends.

The light show is free. But donations are accepted and that cash benefits dozens of local charities. 

Starting Friday night, you can experience the Luminary Walk at the Overland Park Arboretum. And yes, you can be there. This is not a virtual event. You will experience a nip in the air as you walk through the woods with thousands of candles lighting your way. 

There are also horse-drawn carriage rides, a children’s garden, gnome and fairy villages and four music stations.

I know a lot of people like to experience this event with a drink in hand. But I’m told that to keep things safe, there will be no liquid libations or nibbles this year.

This is not a free event. It costs $14, or $12 for arboretum members. And kids under the age of 5 are free. You also have to go to the Arboretum’s website to select a timed ticket.

Nick Haines tracks the metro’s most important local news stories on “Kansas City Week in Review.” Watch Friday at 7:30 p.m. on Kansas City PBS.

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