KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) — The local surge of COVID cases and hospitalizations prompted a joint health advisory issued Friday from 11 health departments on both sides of the state line, encouraging vaccination and masks for those who haven’t had the vaccine — and distancing even for those who have.
The guidance came from the health departments, with input from local hospitals’ chief medical officers. The mask recommendation is just for those unvaccinated and those who are vaccinated but have existing health problems known as co-morbidities. All the recommendations are just that, not mandates.
“We are not at the point of looking at requiring people to wear masks,” said Frank Thompson, the deputy director of the Kansas City Health Department.
At Mike’s Wine and Spirits in Westport, the owner said the past mandates were confusing because they varied by city, county and state, so he was glad to see a joint announcement covering the entire region. As for masks, he is focused on what he can control.
Ever since Kansas City lifted its mask mandate, customers at Mike’s are free to go bare faced and most do.
“It’s hard for us to mandate a thousand customers coming in on a Friday when the city isn’t mandating,” explained owner Andy Doohan.
But he didn’t lift the mandate for staff, vendors and sales reps, saying at the time that things have changed so much with this virus that he wanted to see how things go. The partitions at checkout never went down and the staff never stopped masking up even though Doohan says they’re all vaccinated.
“Until this thing is really stamped out, our family feels like there’s not really a logical reason for our staff not to wear masks,” Doohan said.
He said in some stores, the staff gets some flack about it, but the customers we met had nothing but respect for the move.
“It doesn’t really bother me.,” said Jessica Franzen. “Obviously with the past year and what we’ve been through, I respect people’s choices.”
“Honestly I think it’s good. I think everybody should,” said Steven Morrill.
He didn’t wear one for his quick beer run, because, he said, he’s fully vaccinated. But he said sometimes he still does.
“I work at a smoke shop, and with customers constantly coming in, working with money, I’m wearing one. Just because, you never know,” Morrill said.
One hospital’s chief medical officer says the end of mask mandates is partly to blame for the recent rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
“I think it’s the rise of the delta variant combined with the removal of mask mandates and social distancing,” posited Dr. Steven Stites, the chief medical officer for the KU Health System.
He notes that hospitalized COVID patients at KU Hospital number in the 30s. On June 1, it was two. The city’s mask mandate ended on May 28. But he doesn’t see local advisories turning into mandates any time soon.
“I don’t think anyone is ready to do that yet. I don’t think there’s the political nor the social willpower to it yet, but I think at some point, we could get faced with that if we end up like Springfield,” Stites added.
Data from the Mid-America Regional Council that includes area counties on both sides of the state line show hospitalizations began to rise steadily since June 8. The daily average of new hospitalizations then was 39. It is now 77.
COVID hospitalizations in KC metro have been steadily rising since early June. Graph courtesy of MARC.
The message from the 11 local health departments was partly about masks for the unvaccinated, but mostly about the value of getting the vaccine. The guidance itself isn’t much different from what it was six weeks ago,
“It’s really an attempt to bring this to the forefront,” explained Thompson. “We just wanted to dispel that myth, [to send the message] that COVID is not over, we still have an active pandemic going on.”
One customer at Mike’s was quick to echo the vaccine message. He had COVID in November and became what’s known as a long hauler.
“It wasn’t until two weeks ago I started feeling normal again. I would have headaches, high blood pressure, spent a lot of money going to the doctor,” said Vincent Lister. “I just don’t want anybody to go through what I went through.”
The regional advisory included the following health departments:
- Cass County, MO
- Clay County, MO
- Independence, MO
- Jackson County, MO
- Johnson County, KS
- Kansas City, MO
- Leavenworth County, KS
- Miami County, KS
- Platte County, MO
- Ray County, MO
- Wyandotte County, KS
Key guidelines are below. You can find the full document here.
-Get fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
• Anyone 12 and older should seek vaccination immediately.
• Help protect children younger than 12 by ensuring the adults around them are vaccinated.
• Individuals who have initiated 2-dose vaccination should get their second dose to ensure maximum protection against all COVID-19 strains, including delta.
• Talk with your friends and family about the importance of getting vaccinated.
• If you have specific concerns about whether you should get the vaccine, consult your physician.
-Unvaccinated individuals should wear a mask while visiting indoor public places, in crowded outdoor settings, and for activities with close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated.
• Be aware that people with underlying medical conditions may not be able to receive full protection from the vaccine and that children younger than 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination. These populations are vulnerable to being exposed to COVID-19.
-Both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents should exercise caution.
• Currently, only 40% of Missourians are fully vaccinated. Please assume that 1 in 2 people in any crowd or gathering may be unvaccinated. If you do not know the vaccination status of those around you, resume social distancing of at least 6 feet.
• If unvaccinated, being in crowds like restaurants, bars, fitness centers, or movie theaters puts you at a higher risk for COVID-19. Avoid indoor spaces that do not offer fresh air from the outdoors as much as possible.
• Additionally, continue practicing good hand hygiene by washing your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.
-Stay home if you’re sick.
• Seek testing if you develop or have any symptoms of COVID-19, including mild symptoms similar to a cold or allergies.
-Individuals with underlying medical conditions should get fully vaccinated as soon as possible and wear masks when around persons of unknown vaccination status.
• The following conditions are associated with increased risk of death from COVID-19:
o Age above 65, organ transplant recipient, cancer, diabetes, obesity, chronic heart/lung/kidney/neurologic conditions, rheumatologic conditions such as Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, use of immunosuppressive medications, AIDS, and other immunosuppressive conditions or neurological diseases.
• Having more than one of these conditions may significantly increase the risk of hospitalization or death. For more information, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.