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Nick’s Picks | Pandemic, Politics, Police and Pot

Sizing Up the Week Before it Happens

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

It’s been quite some time since COVID-19 led the local newscasts. But that’s likely to change this week as area hospitals report the biggest influx of coronavirus patients since the pandemic began.

There are reports of some local emergency rooms turning ambulances away due to lack of bed space. Health officials report a 28% increase in the number of Kansas City patients on ventilators. And in southeast Kansas, the largest hospital in Pittsburg has canceled all elective surgeries as it tries to get ahead of a new wave of COVID-related hospitalizations.

Early Voting

Starting this week every county in Kansas can now advance vote in person ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election. That includes Wyandotte County, which opens its three advance voting locations today. 

Johnson County election officials estimate that 60% of its voters will cast their ballots ahead of Election Day. For those planning to vote in person, expect long lines. 

This year, several metro counties are breaking records with more registered voters than ever before. But not in all places. Voter registration is down in Kansas City, Missouri, and in Wyandotte County compared to the record breaking 2008 election when Barack Obama first appeared on the ballot.

Final Debate

This week President Trump is scheduled to meet Joe Biden for the last time before Election Day. Their final debate is scheduled for Thursday night in Nashville. Even though there was talk of changing the rules to give the moderator a kill button to mute a candidate’s microphone, no changes have been made.

You can watch the debate live Thursday at 8 p.m. on Kansas City PBS.

Crime and Protest

It’s been a year of unrelenting violence in Kansas City. It’s also been a year of incessant protests.

Last week, members of a tenant’s rights group chained themselves to the doors of the Jackson County Courthouse to block eviction hearings. This morning, a blue tarp covers the statue outside of Kansas City police headquarters after vandals defaced it with red paint. And for the third week in a row, activists are encamped in a tent city just outside of City Hall. They’re protesting police use of force and the recent viral video of a Kansas City police officer putting, what looks like, his knee in the back of a pregnant woman while making an arrest. 

Mayor Quinton Lucas said Friday on “Week in Review” that as long as the protest remains peaceful, the city has no plans to remove the tent encampment. 

But will pressure on the mayor mount this week? A mayoral town hall scheduled for Saturday on the role of law enforcement in the community has been removed from the calendar.

Openings and Closings

A new report from the Kansas Secretary of State’s office provides a depressing portrait of the pandemic’s impact on businesses. So far in 2020, nearly 3,600 Kansas businesses have shut down or filed for bankruptcy. But what that report doesn’t show is just how many businesses are struggling to survive. 

Here in Kansas City, the pandemic has claimed another victim in the restaurant industry. The Rieger has announced its shutting down at the end of the month. And if you head to the Country Club Plaza, you’ll notice a going out of business sign outside Helzberg Diamonds. The jeweler has had a presence on the Plaza since 1948.

While jobs are being lost, Amazon has announced it’s bringing 500 new jobs to the metro. More than a decade after the closure of The Woodlands racetrack in Kansas City, Kansas, the online retailer is turning the former horse and dog racing track into another fulfillment center. Amazon says the positions will start at a minimum of $15 an hour and will include full health benefits.

Medical Marijuana on Sale

Nearly two years after Missouri voters approved medical marijuana at the ballot box, you can finally legally buy the drug in our metro. A dispensary in Lee’s Summit called Fresh Green will be the first in our area to legally sell the product. The store, just off Missouri 291, opens today. 

A 1/8-ounce bag will sell for between $60 and $70. Those familiar with the industry say Missouri’s prices will start out high and drop as more supply comes on line.  Remember, you can’t just show up at the store and buy marijuana. You will need a state medical marijuana card and photo ID. 

The state of Missouri says it expects most of the state’s 192 dispensaries to be open by the end of the year. About 40 of those will be in the Kansas City area.

Wonderscope Reopens

A new $15 million museum dedicated to kids also is opening this week. The new Wonderscope Children’s Museum opens in Red Bridge on Friday. You can’t miss it, there’s a full size yellow school bus hanging out of the side of the building.

If the name Wonderscope sounds familiar, that’s because it is.  Wonderscope opened its doors 30 years ago in an abandoned elementary school in Shawnee. The new expanded attraction realizes a decades-long ambition to create a children’s museum that would become a destination for the entire region. It targets children aged 10 and under.

Halloween Comes Early 

Halloween is coming early this year. Starting Thursday night, ghostly spirits are taking over the south lawn of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  “Ghost-Light: A Haunted Night of Songs and Stories” is a production of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, which is hoping to make it an annual tradition.

According to the news release, you’re asked to come ready ”to have your imagination transported by original songs and new versions of traditional ghost stories created just for this event by some of KC’s most compelling storytellers and musicians.” 

The experience doesn’t come cheap. Seating on the lawn will be arranged in eight-foot circular pods with room for four people. Parking your posterior in that pod with three of your closest friends will set you back $80.

Despite the pandemic precautions and cost, all six nights are sold out.  But you can add your name to the waitlist. 

The Rep is getting creative now that they’ve lost their biggest money making show, “A Christmas Carol.” That production was pulled back in August as the metro’s largest arts organizations canceled their seasons due to the pandemic.

For more information on “Ghost Light,” visit kcrep.org.

Nick Haines tracks the week’s local news on the primetime public affairs program, “Kansas City Week in Review.” Watch Friday at 7:30 p.m. on Kansas City PBS.

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