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Nick’s Picks | Working for the (Labor Day) Weekend

The Week Ahead in Kansas City News

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

With the Labor Day weekend ahead it’s going to be a quieter week in Kansas City. 

But what will more people on the road, on boats, on bikes and in swimming pools do to our overstretched health system?

Local hospital officials are bracing for an uptick in emergency admissions at a time when there’s little bed space or staff to spare due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the last few days, there are reports of Kansas City hospitals transferring patients as far as away as Oklahoma City and Chicago. 

We are also now beginning to hear isolated stories of patients in Kansas and Missouri dying while waiting for beds.

Changing Labor Day Plans

With new alarm bells being rung over the spread of the Delta variant, are you changing any of your plans for this Labor Day weekend? 

According to a national survey from Cars.com, 60% of Americans plan to travel over this holiday weekend. That’s up 17% over this time last year. But COVID concerns have prompted more than 20% of travelers to cancel their flights and drive instead. 

Meanwhile, the National Restaurant Association says 19% of adults say they’ve stopped going out to restaurants amid growing uncertainty over the virus.

Schools Change Course

Will we see any of our local schools and universities reverse course this week now that COVID is causing new outbreaks among students here and across the country? 

Well, it’s already happening. 

With two weeks of a new school year under their belts, a number of Kansas school districts are now rethinking their plans. The Wellington School District just south of Wichita is shutting down classrooms this week after three virus outbreaks. 

And having decided to go maskless to start the new school year, the largest school district in Kansas is now requiring every student to wear them.

The Wichita School Board made the change after more than 200 students and staff tested positive for COVID-19 and 1,600 students were placed in quarantine.

The spotlight is now moving to our universities, just as the college football season starts this weekend. Administrators are not saying much about it, but several of our local universities have been quietly dropping more and more in-person classes and pushing students online.

Businesses Ponder COVID Policies

Now that the Food and Drug Administration has given full approval to the Pfizer vaccine, how many Kansas City area businesses will start demanding their workers get the shot? 

And are there any metro area businesses now following the lead of Delta Airlines? 

Delta is raising health insurance premiums for unvaccinated employees by $200 a month. 

Many companies in our area already charge smokers a higher premium than non-tobacco users. 

But is it fair to use that same tactic on workers who decline a COVID vaccination?

Do you work for a company that’s now doing that?

We’re trying to find out as part of our reporting on this.  

I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email at nhaines@kansascitypbs.org

Afghan Deadline

For a second straight week, Afghanistan will top our nation’s headlines.

This Tuesday is the deadline to end the evacuations and withdraw American forces. 

Meanwhile, the White House is trying to prepare Americans for possibly more bloodshed. White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the next couple of days “will be our most dangerous period to date.”

Closer to home, Kansas City’s three big refugee resettlement agencies are preparing for a wave of displaced Afghan families. 

While no firm numbers have been released, more than 100,000 Afghans could be permitted into the United States over the next few days, weeks and months. 

Ryan Hudnall, who leads Della Lamb Community Services, says the refugee resettlement system is not built for receiving that many people, and so quickly. Not since 1975, with the airlift out of South Vietnam, has the country been confronted with the potential of such large numbers of refugees.

Honoring a Missouri Marine 

Large crowds are expected this week at the funeral of Jared Schmitz. 

He’s the 20-year-old marine from Missouri who was among 13 American service members and more than a 170 Afghan civilians killed in a suicide bombing near Kabul airport last week.

Schmitz, from Wentzville, wasn’t even stationed in Afghanistan. He was deployed in Jordan but ordered into Kabul to help with the chaotic evacuation of Americans. 

His father says he was informed of his son’s death from a knock on the door at 2:40 a.m.

Schmitz was on his first military deployment when he died.

Bracing for Evictions

Will hundreds of Kansas Citians find themselves forcibly removed from their homes this week? 

Some housing activists say that’s exactly what’s going to happen now that the U.S. Supreme Court has tossed out the Biden administration’s emergency eviction moratorium.

While there’s growing concern about what the ruling means for families on the verge of homelessness, the move has been welcomed by landlords.

According to the National Rental Home Council, 50% of landlords report that they had tenants miss rent payments during the pandemic. Some local landlords say they’ve been maxing out credit cards and dipping into savings to pay property taxes, insurance and water bills.

Missouri Medicaid Expansion Delayed

It’s been more than a month now since the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the state must implement a voter approved expansion to its Medicaid program. 

But the state is continuing to drag its heels. 

Not one low-income Missourian has been added to the program since the high court’s ruling.

A state official says training and computer changes are responsible for the delay.

The state says the new sign-ups won’t start until October.

Should Missouri Police Live in Kansas?

The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners is expected to meet Tuesday to decide whether Kansas City police officers can live in Johnson and Wyandotte counties. 

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson recently signed into law a measure lifting the police residency requirement. 

It allows Kansas City officers to live within 30 miles of the city limits, but the police board has authority to expand that boundary.

Should it extend to Kansas? 

Supporters of the effort, including the police union, say it would help with recruiting and retaining officers. Mayor Quinton Lucas argues it would be a major step back for community-police relations.

Also this week, a months-long spat over police funding in Kansas City finally gets a hearing in court. 

A Jackson County judge will hear arguments from the Board of Police Commissioners and Lucas on Wednesday. 

The state appointed police board argues the mayor “defunded” police when the City Council withheld $42 million from the department in May. That’s about one-sixth of the department’s entire budget. 

The mayor insists he’s just trying to hold Kansas City police accountable.

Remembering Ed Asner

Tributes are rolling in for one of Kansas City’s best known actors. Ed Asner died Sunday at the age of 91. 

While older generations will forever remember him as cantankerous boss Lou Grant in the ‘70s sitcom, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” Asner won over a new generation of viewers on the big screen, playing Santa Claus alongside Will Ferrell in “Elf” and as the grumpy old man turned hero in the 2009 Pixar animated movie, “Up.”

Asner was the son of a Kansas City junk dealer and grew up in the West Bottoms. His family would later move to Kansas City, Kansas. He attended Wyandotte High School and for a time worked as an assembly worker at the General Motors car plant.

Festival Season

Organizers behind some of Kansas City’s largest festivals say they’re moving forward with plans this weekend to host tens of thousands of visitors.

In Independence, Santa-Cali-Gon Days begin Friday. The three-day event celebrates the city of Independence as the starting point of the pioneering Santa Fe, California and Oregon trails. 

In Kansas City, Irish Fest also begins Friday at Crown Center. 

And on Saturday, the Renaissance Festival gets underway in Bonner Springs. 

Irish Fest crowd gathers below the Kansas City skyline.
The Irish Fest crowd will gather below the Kansas City skyline this Labor Day weekend. (Courtesy | KC Irish Fest)

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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