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Nick’s Picks | Mask Debate Heats Up Again With COVID Spike

St. Louis Order May End Up in Court, Local Schools Consider Options

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

Residents of St. Louis are waking up this morning to a new mask mandate.

The city’s health order requires anyone age 5 and over, including those who are vaccinated, to wear a mask in all indoor public spaces.

It’s unclear how long the mask order will be in effect. The Missouri Attorney General said he will fight the mask mandate in court. He plans to file a lawsuit against the city later today.

So what does that mean to us here? Are we about to see a new round of COVID restrictions in Kansas City?

Despite the pleas from some health leaders, it doesn’t look like it. 

Speaking on the CBS news program “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said, at this point, a new mask mandate “is not necessary for Kansas City.” 

But the mayor added he is giving more consideration to requiring all 5,000 city workers to be vaccinated.

A growing number of employers in our area are requiring vaccinations or imposing their own workplace mask orders.

Beginning today, everyone on Whiteman Air Force Base in Warrensburg will be required to wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status. 

The moves come just as Kansas City area hospitals have begun refusing to accept transfer patients from other areas.

Schools on the Hot Seat

With the start of school just weeks away, one of the big questions now being asked is whether kids should be masked in the classroom. 

Despite pleas from the American Academy of Pediatrics and local public health leaders, almost every suburban school district in our metro has decided to make masks optional.

This evening, the Shawnee Mission School District will take up the issue. It’s expected to be a heated board meeting. 

Every other Johnson County school district has already decided not to require face coverings. 

So far, Kansas City, Kansas, is the only big district insisting its students wear masks. But Kansas City, Missouri, Public Schools has also signaled its intention to require masks when students return in August.

Vaccine Lottery

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is expected to reveal more details this week about the state’s new vaccination incentive program. 

Missouri is now offering residents a chance to win $10,000 if you get the shot. In fact, there are 900 such prizes up for grabs between now and October. Perhaps just as significantly, the state also is giving local health departments the funds to give everyone $25 as soon as they get the jab. 

But there are lingering questions. The state doesn’t know when local health departments will get the money to launch the program and it now looks like the $25 will be on a gift card and not in hard cash. 

In the meantime, if you’re already vaccinated and want a shot at winning $10,000 you have to sign up. You can register at MOStopsCovid.com/win.

The first $10,000 drawing is set for Aug. 13.

Scorcher

It’s going to remain mercilessly hot this week. But the National Weather Service has cancelled an “excessive heat warning” for our metro. They’ve replaced it with a “heat advisory” until Thursday night. It’s unclear what the practical difference is between the two, especially when the “feel like” temperatures are still expected to hit 107 degrees.

Take comfort that this is not a record breaker.

Kansas City’s single hottest day on record came on Aug. 24, 1936, when a deadly heatwave brought temperatures to 113 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. And remember that was before most people had air-conditioning. It led to a natural disaster as hundreds of people lost their lives to heat-related illnesses.

Medicaid Expansion: Now What?

Many people were excited last week when the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously upheld a voter-approved Medicaid expansion measure. 

But low-income Missourians hoping to enroll in the program may still have a long wait ahead of them.

That’s because the ruling doesn’t spell out how the expansion will be implemented. The Supreme Court’s decision returns the case back to a lower court judge who will work with state officials on how to do that. And that could take weeks. 

In the meantime, it’s not out of the question that a new lawsuit will be filed, challenging the ballot question on other legal grounds. 

Key Republican lawmakers in Jefferson City are still arguing they don’t have the money to add hundreds of thousands of Missourians to the health care plan. And they insist it may require a new round of budget cuts and a special session of the legislature to solve the issue.

It’s also possible that the lower court judge will give the state even more time, allowing lawmakers to revisit the issue when they start their legislative session in January.

That will keep around 275,000 low-income Missourians in limbo a lot longer.

Remembering Meneilly

Tributes are still coming in this week for one of Kansas City’s most influential ministers.

Rev. Robert Meneilly died last week at the age of 96. He led the Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village for nearly half a century and is remembered for taking an early stand against racism in Johnson County and for his outspoken sermons on the dangers of religious extremism. The New York Times reprinted one of his sermons on its editorial page.

A memorial service is planned for Friday at 1 p.m. at the Village Presbyterian Church sanctuary.

Upheaval in College Sports

College sports fans have a lot to be watching out for this week. 

There are now multiple reports that the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners will announce they are leaving the Big 12 this week. Both schools are expected to join the SEC. 

So where does that leave KU?

Reportedly, the University of Kansas has set up a call with the Big 10 to discuss a potential realignment. 

But if multiple teams start leaving the Big 12, will the conference implode? And what does that mean for Kansas City? 

The T-Mobile Center has been the site of the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tournament for the past 12 years. It’s a cash cow for the city.

I don’t pretend to understand the inner workings of American college sports, but this could be a turning point locally.

Don’t expect KU basketball coach Bill Self to be speaking out this week. He’s just tested positive for COVID-19 and is in isolation.

Help Wanted: New Zoo Director

Do you think you can look after nearly 2,000 animals? Can you manage more than 200 humans?

If you can, your dream job has just opened up.

The Kansas City Zoo is now looking for a new leader.

Longtime Zoo Director Randy Wisthoff has just announced he’s retiring after 18 years on the job.

A national search is underway this week for his replacement.

Darts at the Olympics

The Olympics Games will continue to dominate the news this week. 

It looks like it’s all over before it begins for Kansas City gymnast Kara Eaker. The 18-year-old from Grain Valley is not even going to get the chance to see any of the sights in Tokyo. She’s the first American athlete to test positive for COVID-19 and is in isolation in her hotel room. Another Kansas City area gymnast, former Blue Valley High graduate Leanne Wong, also is in isolation after being exposed.

Last week in Nick’s Picks, I pulled together five surprising facts about this year’s Olympics. This week, I’ve been pouring through Olympics history and have come to the conclusion that we need to add darts and pool to the roster of competitive sports. 

Yes, I excel at both pastimes. But are they really out of step with some of the sports that have been part of the games over the years? 

Did you know that tug of war was part of the track-and-field events during the 1908 Olympics in London?  Great Britain won gold in that event. But it wasn’t without controversy, after an American coach accused the Brits of wearing pronged boots. 

In 1900, croquet was contested at the Olympics in Paris. France won gold, silver and bronze medals. That was mainly because few places in the world even played croquet.

So I’m making it official, I am now formally petitioning the International Olympic Committee for darts and pool to be added.

Nick Haines dissects the week’s most impactful local news stories, Fridays at 7:30 p.m. on Kansas City PBS.

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