KC Health Department director says closing schools won’t slow coronavirus outbreak

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – While the state of Kansas has urged all K-12 schools to close this week, across state lines in Kansas City, Missouri, the response was more restrained.

“There is no evidence that closing a school will slow down this outbreak one bit,” Kansas City Health Director Rex Archer said.

There are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in KCMO or Jackson County.

Archer told a gathering of city council members and Mayor Quinton Lucas on Monday that closing schools can cause far more problems than it solves.

“We know that if you close schools teenage pregnancy rates go up and the potential of violence increases,” Archer said, without offering any evidence.

“The real focus right now is to make sure our high-risk folks over 60 and folks with heart and lung damage are getting protected and not being exposed.”

However, Archer said parents could voluntarily keep their children home from school.

He said the city was in talks with the Missouri Department of Education about not withholding state funds from schools where children are being kept at home.

Lucas said the city is also considering limiting public gatherings to 25% of a building’s occupancy code. That could be good news for some large restaurants and bars that were previously restricted to 50 people, but bad news for smaller establishments.

Archer told council members the lack of coronavirus cases could be a result of very limited testing and that once more tests are made available, starting April 1, the numbers could rise dramatically.

One council member said nursing homes in his district were concerned they were unable to get access to coronavirus tests.

Archer acknowledged Kansas City should prepare for the worst. As each week passes, he said, Kansas City becomes more susceptible.

“When it does hit it could hit fast and hard,” Archer said.

Lucas told the council he instituted Kansas City’s state of emergency last week in part because he needed the authority to stop a hotel refusing to cancel a conference. The mayor said it would have brought in people from across the country and put others at risk.

The mayor said he’s working with what he described as regional partners to develop funding sources to help businesses weather the storm.   

“Help them get through the next several weeks to months,” Lucas said, adding that businesses also need to prepare themselves for a dramatic downturn.

On the bright side, utility companies like BPU, Evergy and the Kansas City Water Department have suspended shut-offs for people unable to pay their utility bills in the coming months.

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