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Nick’s Picks | Mask Mandates, Vaccine Supplies and Medicaid Expansion

Mourning KCUR Reporter Aviva Okeson-Haberman

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

Will mask mandates finally come to an end in Kansas City this week? 

On Friday, the mask mandate in Johnson County will expire. County leaders have scheduled a meeting for this Thursday to decide whether to approve a new order or simply let it lapse.

All signs are they are ready to let it drop.

With large numbers of Johnson County residents now vaccinated, even the county health department says it won’t stand in the way of removing the face covering requirement. That’s a significant change. 

State health officials say they won’t oppose the move either. And the last time county leaders met to discuss the mask requirement, they included a goal of vaccinating about 50% of the qualified population with at least one dose before lifting the mask mandate. 

Johnson County has now reached that goal.

So does that mean we’re all about to become unmasked? Not so fast. 

The county commission is still expected to strongly recommend we wear them. They will also spell out the rights of private companies to require their employees and customers to mask up. So even without a county mandate, your local Target and Costco can still stop you from entering without a face covering.

But you can see where this is headed. With local government stepping back it’s going to be left to poorly paid frontline workers to police these policies. They’ve already been widely abused by hostile customers. This is going to make matters worse.

And will Johnson County be just the first domino to fall?  Mask mandates are expiring in the next few days all around the metropolitan area.

The mask mandate in Kansas City, Missouri, expires at the stroke of midnight on Saturday. What will Mayor Quinton Lucas decide to do? 

We are expecting to get an answer later today when the mayor has promised to announce the city’s next steps in its COVID-19 recovery plans.

Vaccine Surplus

Are we finally at a tipping point where the supply of the COVID-19 vaccine now outstrips the demand?

This week, a second mass vaccination event at Arrowhead Stadium has been canceled and officials in Johnson County say they will no longer host large-scale vaccination events as too few people are showing up.

In Kansas, more than half of the state’s counties have asked that the state no longer send them shots. They don’t have anyone left who wants them. In all, 62 counties last week asked the state to stop sending them the vaccine. 

It’s a worrying sign for health leaders. Only one in three residents in Kansas and Missouri have received a COVID shot. That’s considered well below the requirements for achieving herd immunity.

Flu shot
In this file photo, a nurse administers a vaccine shot. (Jacquelyn Martin | AP File)

KC Reporter Killed

Our friends in public radio are mourning one of their own this week. KCUR reporter Aviva Okeson-Haberman was killed after a stray bullet reportedly pierced the window of her first floor apartment in the Sante Fe neighborhood, near 28th Street and Benton Boulevard. She was 24 years old.

Expect some response from public officials this week, including Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who’s own neighborhood was disrupted by violence over the weekend. The mayor lives in the 18th and Vine Jazz District. Police closed off the area late Sunday night after a dispute outside a business left one person dead and three others with gunshot wounds.

Kansas City is already on pace to surpass last year’s historic number of murders that took the lives of 176 men, women and children.

Laura Kelly’s Veto Pen

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly may be suffering from a severe case of focal dystonia of the fingers this week. We more commonly call it “writer’s cramp.”  She’s just come off a mammoth session of vetoing almost every major bill lawmakers sent to her desk. 

That includes measures banning transgender athletes from competing in girls’ sports, to tax cuts and election law changes. 

The big question is will lawmakers override the governor to force their implementation.

Well, it won’t happen this week. Lawmakers are taking a late spring break.  

The legislature returns for its annual veto session on May 3. 

Medicaid Expansion

Will this be the week Missouri lawmakers find the money to implement a voter-approved Medicaid expansion plan? 

It would allow Missourians earning up to $17,600 a year to qualify for free healthcare. 

So far, Republican lawmakers have refused to budge. And now they’re running out of time. If the full Missouri Senate doesn’t vote this week to add the money when they take up consideration of the state budget, it’s likely the issue will be settled in a courtroom.

The expanded program doesn’t go into effect until July 1.

The Opera is Back

Last week, the Kansas City Symphony publicly announced it was canceling it’s popular “Celebration at the Station” event. Even though it’s an outdoor concert, the symphony is taking no chances with the pandemic.

That doesn’t mean local arts organizations are in total retreat.

This week, the Lyric Opera is hosting a live performance at Meadowbrook Park in Prairie Village.

The outdoor concert will feature artists singing hits from opera and musical theater.

It’s totally free. Grab a lawn chair and your picnic basket. The performance starts Thursday evening at 6 p.m.

The Kansas City Symphony performing at the "Celebration at the Station."
The Kansas City Symphony has canceled this year’s “Celebration at the Station” due to the pandemic. (Brad Austin | Flatland)

NASCAR Returns

A ballet of a different sort gets underway this weekend at the Kansas Speedway.

NASCAR is back. 

For a lot of people, there’s something graceful and elegant about seeing powerful sheets of metal traveling at more than 200 miles an hour around an oval shaped track.

About 10,000 fans are being allowed inside the stands at the Kansas Speedway for the NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Oscar Night

A Kansas City man is being celebrated around the movie world this week. Peter Spears got to stand on stage at the Oscars Sunday night as “Nomadland” won the best picture award. 

Spears is the film’s co-producer. He was born in Kansas City and later grew up in Overland Park, graduating from Shawnee Mission South High School.

By the way, a man from my hometown of Port Talbot in Wales also is getting one of the biggest awards at the Oscars bash. Anthony Hopkins won best actor. And our hometown hero didn’t show up to claim his prize.

Back in 2012, Hopkins told the Huffington Post he had no interest in award shows, claiming it was against his nature.  “I can’t stand all that. I find it nauseating to watch and I think it’s disgusting to behold. People groveling around and kissing the backsides of famous producers and all that. It makes me want to throw up, it really does.”

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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