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Nick’s Picks: Protests Eclipse Pandemic

Struggle Continues

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

Will Kansas City continue to see more protests this week?  And now that many COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted around the metro, could a new set of rules, crackdowns and ordinances go into effect?

For the first time since stay-at-home orders were imposed in March, another news story has finally eclipsed the coronavirus. 

Today, the Country Club Plaza will remain closed as retailers and businesses work on repairs and take stock of the damage after a weekend of angry demonstrations. About 1,000 people converged on the shopping district to protest police brutality in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. 

Kansas City imposed an 8 p.m. curfew law as police released tear gas in an effort to disperse protesters.  About 90 arrests were made as windows were smashed and damage was reported at dozens of Plaza businesses. Two TV news vehicles and a police patrol car were set on fire. And the Missouri Gov. Mike Parson sent in National Guard troops to help restore order. Two police officers were hospitalized. 

Expect Mayor Quinton Lucas to host another press conference this week to address the city’s next steps. 

Pandemic Restrictions Ease

While Kansas City imposed an 8 p.m. curfew on the Plaza, Westport and Downtown over the weekend, COVID-19 restrictions around the metro are melting away. 

Starting this week, Kansas City ditches its 10-10-10 rules. Now all businesses can open up to 50% of their capacity, as long as six feet of social distancing is maintained. 

The same goes for church services, weddings and performances. There is no restriction on outdoor gatherings, as long as efforts are made to keep people six feet apart.

In parts of Jackson County that are not in Kansas City, Missouri, restrictions are also easing. Beginning today, restaurants, gyms, barber shops and libraries will be allowed to open up to 50% of their capacity and pools can reopen. 

In Johnson County, most COVID-19 restrictions already have been lifted. All churches, businesses, bars and nightclubs can open. And there can be mass gatherings of up to 45 people. 

Theaters, community centers and summer camps can also open, along with swimming pools. But many area cities including Overland Park and Prairie Village have decided not to open their public pools this summer.

Wyandotte County, which has been hardest hit by the virus, is also now opening up.  Even bars and nightclubs in the county can bring in customers, though they are limited to 15 patrons or fewer.

Place Your Bets

Missouri’s casinos reopen starting today. But with lots of changes, just like everywhere else. From now on, only dealers may touch cards and there’ll be fewer chairs at the blackjack and gambling tables. Plus only every other slot machine will be available. And gone is the ubiquitous casino buffet. Sorry.

Kansas casinos were permitted to open last week with safety precautions, including temperature checks of all guests before entering the casino floor.

Pandemic Democracy

Tuesday is Election Day and our first local test of how voting takes place during a pandemic. 

For one thing, you won’t get an “I VOTED” sticker. That’s too much contact. Another big change will be a lot fewer voting locations. Election officials rely on churches, schools and elder care facilities to offer themselves up as polling sites. Many of them are refusing to do so this year. In Jackson County, that means consolidating 131 voting locations into 43 sites.

In Kansas City, voters will decide whether they want to raise the sales tax to pay for updated equipment for the city’s fire department and to buy new ambulances.

Lee’s Summit voters will decide whether to impose a city sales tax on online purchases.

And in Clay County, after one negative news story after another, voters get to decide whether they want the change the county’s form of government. 

Dozens of city council and school board races are also on the ballot. 

Kansas Lawmakers Return

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has ordered state lawmakers back to Topeka on Wednesday. She wants the legislature to extend her emergency powers to act during this pandemic. Not sure what else they could bring up once their under the capitol dome. We’ll be watching.

Medicaid Lawsuit

Could a Missouri judge this week stop you from voting on Medicaid expansion this year? In the last few days, Gov. Mike Parson opted to move the measure from the November ballot to the August one. But two conservative groups have filed suit asking a judge to remove it completely. They say the proposal extending Medicaid to 200,000 Missourians is unconstitutional because it would require the state to spend money without providing a revenue stream to pay for it.

Big Slick  

I’m still keeping track of all of the events that we would have been celebrating if it weren’t for this pandemic. This Friday, tens of thousands of us would have been converging on Kauffman Stadium for the Big Slick celebrity softball game with Jason Sudeikis, Paul Rudd, Eric Stonestreet, Rob Riggle and David Koechner. It was to have taken place before the Royals hosted the Cleveland Indians. Then later all of the celebrities would be headed to Sprint Center for another big fundraising event to benefit Children’s Mercy Hospital.  

Well, the gates are still padlocked at Kauffman Stadium with no firm date or time for when the Royals will return. And Brenda Tinnen, who heads Sprint Center, told me on our most recent edition of “Kansas City Week in Review” that not one artist has recently committed to performing in the downtown entertainment venue. 

World War I Museum

Some of our biggest attractions are beginning to open back up. After being closed since March 16th, Kansas City’s National World War I Museum and Memorial welcomes back visitors on Tuesday. It’s the first Kansas City museum to reopen.

Convention Hotel Reopens

With very little fanfare, the new Kansas City downtown convention hotel will officially open its doors this week. But with every convention canceled or postponed, it’s unclear who’s going to fill the rooms at the 24-story, 800-room Loews hotel that cost more than $320 million to build. It was scheduled to open April 2.

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

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