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Nick’s Picks | Putting Missouri’s COVID-19 Surge in Context

Your Guide to the Week Ahead in News

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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 topped Nick’s Picks, but a number of worrying new trends will ensure the virus dominates local headlines this week.

Just a few miles down the road in Springfield, Missouri, hospitals have been on the hunt for more ventilators and shipping patients out because they are overwhelmed by COVID cases. 

Now the state of Missouri is extending its area of concern. Public health officials have issued a first-of-its-kind “hot spot advisory” for the Lake of the Ozarks. In some resort towns, the vaccination rate is as low as 21%. 

The CDC has assigned two federal “surge team” members to Missouri to help fight the state’s COVID surge. But Gov. Mike Parson has made it clear he doesn’t want federal health workers going door to door encouraging vaccinations.

So what’s going on? 

Missouri is earning a reputation as the nation’s COVID epicenter. But is it really the worst in the entire country? What’s happening in Missouri isn’t pretty. But context is in order here and the overall statistics present a different picture. 

You may be surprised to learn that the COVID death rate in Arizona is higher than it is in Missouri. Arkansas and Alabama also are reporting higher death rates from COVID than Missouri. 

The latest CDC figures compiled by The New York Times also reveal that Missouri has slipped behind Nevada in the percentage of its residents hospitalized with the virus. And Arkansas has now replaced Missouri as the place with the highest percentage of new infections. 

Currently, there are 13 states with lower vaccination rates than Missouri, including Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah. 

While Missouri has nothing to be proud of here, it’s also true that most states are now seeing an uptick in COVID cases. It’s also important to note that the number of Missourians being hospitalized with the virus is down sharply from its peak back in December. The week before New Year, there were more than 2,800 Missourians hospitalized with COVID. Currently there are 1,070. Less than half.

And while media stories have concentrated on Missouri, neighboring Kansas is now experiencing its own set of problems. 

Over the last two weeks, COVID cases have increased by 74% in Missouri. But in Kansas they’ve increased 150% during that same time period.  According to the latest New York Times data, that ranks Kansas 4th in the nation for the greatest increase in new cases in the past 14 days. Only Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama fared worse in that category.

So what does that mean to us here? Right now, it’s hard to see any local elected official calling for a return to mandatory mask wearing or demanding businesses close. But it could influence the decisions of individual employers to halt back-to-work plans and it also may put pressure on universities to demand vaccinations.

So far, most area colleges are not requiring the shot to begin classes next month. Rockhurst University and William Jewell College are exceptions to the rule, with both requiring students be vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to returning to campus in August.


Interactive COVID-19 Mapper


Hyatt Hotel Disaster

This Saturday marks the 40th anniversary of the Hyatt Regency Hotel disaster in Kansas City. 

A total of 114 people died when the hotel’s skywalks collapsed. It remains the deadliest non-deliberate structural failure in American history, and was the deadliest structural collapse in the United States until the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center 20 years later. 

According to the Miami Herald newspaper, footage from the Kansas City disaster has been played repeatedly by Florida television stations trying to make sense of the recent condo collapse in Surfside. 

For the record, no one was held criminally responsible in the Hyatt Hotel disaster. Two structural engineers lost their licenses to practice engineering in Missouri.  An estimated $140 million was paid out to victims in civil settlements.

The Hyatt has since rebranded. It is now the Sheraton Crown Center hotel.

Metal Fencing Removed

Our local members of Congress all head back to Washington this week after an extended Fourth of July break. And for the first time in six months, they won’t have to walk through a large metal fence to get to their jobs.

Over the weekend, workers began dismantling the 7-foot-tall, black metal fencing set up to fortify the U.S. Capitol after the Jan. 6 siege on the building. 

If You Live in Kansas…

If you live in Kansas, there are some important deadlines you need to be aware of this week. 

Tuesday is the deadline to register to vote if you want to cast a ballot in the upcoming August primary election. 

On Wednesday, advance voting by mail begins. 

Scores of local school board and city council races will be decided in the Aug. 3 election. 

Voters in Overland Park will be narrowing down their choice of candidates to be the next mayor of the city. In Wyandotte County, Mayor David Alvey is facing four challengers as he seeks reelection. 

Checks for Kids

Do you have children under the age of 18?

Usually kids cost you money. This week they’re going to fatten your wallet.

Starting on Thursday, the federal government is cutting $250 checks to every household in America with kids who are up to 17 years old. 

By the way, that’s $250 per child. And if they’re under 6, you’ll get a larger check for $300.

And this is no one-off payment, those checks are going to keep coming every month until December.

This is all part of the pandemic stimulus package signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year. The cash help for families drew less attention than the stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits that captured most of the headlines.

Best of all you don’t have to do anything to get the cash. 

Just like the stimulus checks, the money will be automatically deposited into your bank account or sent to you through the mail. 

Most Americans with kids will qualify, though there are some household income limits that block wealthier families from receiving the money. 

 If you’re not sure how this works, or whether you qualify, our friends at the Kansas Reflector have answered all those pesky questions and how to make sure you don’t miss out.

Medicaid Expansion Goes to Court

This Tuesday the Missouri Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the legal spat over Medicaid expansion. 

Last month, a judge ruled that Missouri’s voter-approved Medicaid expansion measure was unconstitutional because the ballot question didn’t include a funding mechanism to pay for it. 

The legal wrangling leaves an estimated 230,000 Missourians in limbo. They would have been eligible for health coverage starting on July 1.

Chief in Court

Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark will get his day in court this week. He is scheduled to appear before a judge Wednesday in Southern California on a felony charge of possessing an assault weapon. 

This is not for his recent brush with the law when he was arrested by police for having an Uzi submachine gun in his vehicle. This week’s appearance is for an earlier arrest in March when officers recovered two loaded firearms from his car during a traffic stop.

If convicted, Clark could face up to three years in prison.

Bill Signing

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson may have to be treated for “dystonia” this week. We more commonly call it “writer’s cramp.” Parson has scheduled a mega bill signing ceremony on Tuesday in which he will ink his name to more than a dozen bills. 

Officially becoming law this week is a change in police residency requirements that will allow Kansas City officers to live up to 30 miles outside the city. 

He will also make law a voucher-like school choice program and a long-sought hike in the gas tax. It will increase the tax on a gallon of gas by 12.5 cents over the next five years. The first increase will hit pumps in October.

Homeless Deadline

The clock is ticking on a temporary program to house Kansas City’s homeless in area hotels.

The city has spent nearly $5 million on the program. But it expires this Thursday and residents have been told they now have to take their belongings and leave. 

The deadline is now putting pressure on the City Council to find other alternatives when they meet later this week. Efforts to move forward with plans to build a “tiny homes” village for the homeless have been caught up in disputes over its location. Neighborhood groups have been lobbying council members to block its construction in their communities.

Playing Games

It’s a big week in sports.

Royals players Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield are on their way to Denver for the MLB All-Star Game, which gets underway Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Coors Field. 

Will this be the week the NBA crowns a new king? The NBA Finals are reaching a climax. The Phoenix Suns are now two games away from claiming professional basketball’s greatest prize. It could happen this Saturday. Of course, the Milwaukee Bucks may have other ideas. 

And the world’s most grueling race comes to an end Sunday on the streets of Paris. The Tour de France is now in its final stretch after 21 days and more than 2,100 miles of cycling, 

And if none of that interests you, how about some ice cream? 

This Sunday is National Ice Cream Day.  Scores of local and national chains are offering you discounts in an attempt to lure you in.  

President Ronald Reagan officially declared the third Sunday in July “National Ice Cream Day.” That was back in 1984 and was a way of boosting the dairy industry. 

I’m not sure current health experts would agree with President Reagan, who declared it “a nutritious and wholesome food.” But it’s clear Americans love the stuff. We apparently consume an average of 48 pints of the cold treat every year.

But that was the pre-pandemic figure. How much higher do you think it is today?

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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