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Kansas City’s ‘Corona Shutdown’ Continues Despite Lower Than Expected Outbreak

For the United States, the sheer size and many state and regional complexities make it difficult to impose the kind of ‘one size fit all’ policy which many in Washington DC and some Governors are calling for amid the corona shutdown. Here is one such case study.

The global coronavirus crisis has cast its shadow on the Kansas City metropolitan area. (Image: 21WIRE © 2020)
Coronavirus fear has cast its dark shadow on the KC metro area (Image: 21WIRE © 2020)

Editorial Team
21st Century Wire

(KANSAS CITY, MO) – The coronavirus crisis continues to rip through the global consciousness, socially isolate millions and cripple economies across the world. Here in Middle America – one metropolitan area waits, wonders, and stays shutdown.

The Kansas City metropolitan area, or “KC metro”, is comprised of a bi-state area, represented by 14 counties and includes a population of approximately 2.5 million people, according to recent census estimates. It ranks #31 in size of population compared to other metropolitan statistical areas around the country.

Nobody knows when life will return to normal here in the KC metro, a Midwest conurbation once dubbed the “Paris of the Plains” – and that includes experts.

There are rural communities nearby, urban areas that are landlocked, varying degrees of access to health care and transportation in each, different industries driving the local economies, and distinct geographic differences across populations.

The Federal government’s one-size-fits-all strategy and response for this crisis does not apply uniformly to areas of the country like the KC metro.

If this community, or any other wants a return to normalcy, then it can only happen if it begins to take action on its own by looking at the available data, applying it rationally to the situation on the ground, and then acting upon it. This is not what is currently happening in America’s heartland.

Corona State of Mind

The coronavirus crisis has been a ratings boon for media. Local television broadcasters know this and have the public’s undivided attention for all waking hours of the day as they quarantine at home.

In the age of Corona, every newscast has been carefully produced to lead with stories that are anything but optimistic from far away places like China, Italy or New York.

As you walk the community, a common theme you’ll hear from people is ‘we are only a few weeks behind’ or ‘it’s only a matter of time’ before the ‘peak’ hits and the coronavirus makes catastrophic landfall here the same way it has in some of the largest cities in the world. But the numbers here just don’t add up.

KC metro’s current reported number of COVID-19 infections are well below the numbers we see pumped out by the media for other parts of the country, or even what other metropolitan areas in the immediate region are facing with their own coronavirus outbreaks, including St. Louis to the east and Denver to the west – and all three of these metro areas are on the heavily traveled U.S. Interstate 70 highway.

To draw a more holistic picture of the current outbreak here, we looked at eight of the most populous counties on both sides of the state line that cluster around the city of Kansas City, Missouri – the largest urban center and most densely populated area in the wider KC metro – anchored by the two largest counties, Johnson (KS) and Jackson (MO) counties.

The counties of Wyandotte, Douglas, Leavenworth on the Kansas side, and Cass, Clay, Platte on the Missouri side, are also included in these most recent combined numbers:

KC Metro COVID-19 Stats

Out of approximately 2.5 million people, these combined numbers begin to tell a specific, different kind of local story.

Local media reporting relies mainly on statewide reported COVID-19 numbers, on both sides of the state line, to communicate out the current status of the outbreak in the KC metro — and that can also be problematic.

For example, statewide numbers for Missouri take into account the densely populated county on the eastern side of the state, St. Louis County, which has reported over 1600 positive cases to date. This is compared to its counterpart here on the western part of the state, Jackson County, which has reported over 500 positive cases to date.

On the Kansas side, there is one COVID-19 story that has dominated the headlines over the past few weeks. It involves the Riverbend Post Acute Rehabilitation Center in Wyandotte county that bills itself as “Kansas City’s Premier Location for Short-Term Rehabilitation and Long-Term Care” – in other words, it’s a nursing home.

Riverbend is the site of the largest localized outbreak of the coronavirus in all of the KC metro. There are now 110 people connected to the facility, patients and staff, that have tested positive for COVID-19. That’s about one-third of all COVID-19 cases for the entire county. And now 12 patients have been reported to “have died after testing positive for COVID-19” – that’s half of the total deaths reported for the county.

Aerial photo of the Riverbend Post Acute Rehabilitation Center (https://riverbendkansascity.com/)
Aerial photo of the Riverbend Post Acute Rehabilitation Center. Site of the largest localized outbreak in the KC metro area. (Image via https://riverbendkansascity.com)

The latest ‘COVID-19’ death reported at the center was sadly a 74-year-old woman with a grieving husband and two sons. The husband, who also contracted the coronavirus, we’re told, had been living at the facility for the last four years. The now deceased woman had previously checked into Riverbend several weeks ago to recover from her recent stroke. Prior to testing positive for COVID-19, she had suffered the stroke as well as two heart attacks and a seizure.

This is not even close to a reflection of the wider KC metro, but it’s being used to portray the crisis as something bigger than it really is to justify the current response. On the one hand, there are images of mass panic from far away places, and on the other, there are isolated cases like Riverbend just miles away. They are both used collectively to reinforce the narrative that extreme social and economic lockdowns are essential to stopping community spread of the virus and ultimately more deaths.

State and local government response has been, predictably, in lockstep with the Federal government’s, ordering stringent ‘stay-at-home’ and ‘social distancing’ orders (KS and MO orders) combined with the closure of ‘non-essential’ businesses – suggesting there’s some sort of ‘Corona dust storm’ headed this way from either direction of the country.

Statewide orders remain in effect to at least April 19th for Kansas and April 24th for Missouri, with open-ended language in both orders that allows for extensions without any guidelines for evaluating the current threat and what the benefits of an extended lockdown would hope to achieve. The city of Kansas City, Missouri has also issued its own order.

Shoppers social distance themselves on a sunny Saturday afternoon (Image: 21WIRE © 2020)
Shoppers social distance with proper protective equipment in the queue on a sunny afternoon. (Image: 21WIRE © 2020)

Last this week, while U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams was busy dropping near apocalyptic-level sound bites, calling the next week of the country’s coronavirus crisis “our Pearl harbor moment” and “our 9/11 moment,” eight states had yet to issue statewide shutdown orders.

U.S. Statewide Lockdown Map
Map of U.S. illustrating which states, as of April 7, have statewide ‘lockdown’ orders in place. (Original map by Business Insider)

As seen in the map above, four of those states, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma and Arkansas, ironically, all border either Kansas or Missouri. What do the Sunflower (KS) and Show-Me (MO) states know that these other non-lockdown states don’t?

Acceptance of expert projection models plays a pivotal role in their crisis response. These models are not exactly scientific. They are educated guesses. But nonetheless, we’ll be using them to actually quell the fear around the coronavirus crisis that continues to grip this midwestern enclave.

In Models We Trust

In a recent report published by the Kansas City Star in late March, “When will COVID-19 peak in Kansas and Missouri? How bad will it be? Models show trend”, it was projected that the two states would reach their ‘COVID-19 peaks’ on April 28th and May 21st, respectively. That is the day in the future projection when ‘deaths per day’ is at its highest number among the population.

This projection was based on research from the University of Washington looking at projected levels of hospital resource use, deaths per day and total deaths for all 50 states. This is the same projection model relied upon daily by President Trump’s White House task force, which includes medical media sensation Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Fauci recently said we should expect that between 100,000 and 200,000 people may die from COVID-19 in the U.S., but later reduced that estimate to around 60,000 deaths.

Trust Fauci? These days, it's as if Dr. Fauci speaks for all Americans.
Trust Fauci? These days, it’s as if Dr. Fauci speaks for all Americans.

[Editor’s note: Though not a focus of this report, the hospital system in the KC metro is not over-stressed. In fact, using the current projections, even with a sudden and sharp turn upward in coronavirus patients, the system would still be abundantly resourced.]

Let’s take a look at how projections for total number of deaths have plummeted in recent weeks while lockdown orders remain in place:

As seen in the graph below, the total number of deaths projected at the time for Kansas’ peak date (April 28th), was 298 – it has since been adjusted to 214 deaths and the peak date to April 27th.

Kansas currently reports 56 deaths statewide. This means, based on the current projection, the state of Kansas should expect another 158 COVID-19 deaths within the next 14 days. Graph below:

COVID-19 total deaths projection for Kansas as of April 5, 2020. (Source: UW Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation)
Screen capture of COVID-19 total deaths projection for Kansas as of April 5, 2020. (Source: UW Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation)

The above projection model would also have the total number of deaths to date, as of this publication on April 13th, at 67 total deaths in Kansas. That is short of the current reality.

For Missouri, the total number of projected deaths at the time for its peak date (May 21st), was 647 – it has since been adjusted to 554 deaths and the peak date to April 26th.

Missouri currently reports 110 deaths. This means, based on the current projection, the state of Missouri should expect another 444 COVID-19 deaths within the next 13 days. Graph below:


Screen capture of COVID-19 ‘total deaths’ projection for Missouri as on April 5, 2020. (Source: UW Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation)

The above projection model would also have the total number of deaths to date, as of this publication on April 13th, at 166 in Missouri. That is also short of the current reality.

Is it time for the KC metro to consider changing its course and allow the local economy to reopen?

It has been almost a month since all KC metro schools and most retail businesses have shutdown. Both state governments, Kansas and Missouri, as well as the city government of KCMO, have continued with their stringent ‘social distancing’ and ‘stay-at-home’ orders.

One area police department has even started a hotline for citizens to report ‘non-compliant’ businesses, others patrol open spaces enforcing orders with the threat of fines and encourage citizens to report anyone not complying with the orders.

The local economy here continues to suffer from the shutdown. Just in the last decade, the KC metro has ranked as high as 26th for small businesses in the country. The metro retail landscape here is littered with window notices.

Small businesses are trying new marketing approaches, catering to 'quarantiners' and adjusting their hours. But for how long can they keep this up?
Small businesses are trying new marketing approaches, catering to ‘quarantiners’ and adjusting their hours. But for how long can they keep this up? (Image: 21WIRE © 2020)

Other small businesses have either outright closed or have begun exploring new business models. (Image: 21WIRE © 2020)
Other small businesses have either outright closed or have begun exploring “new” business models. (Image: 21WIRE © 2020)

At this local barber shop, unsuspecting patrons turned up for a haircut and were met with this scene. (Image: 21WIRE © 2020)
At this local barber shop, unsuspecting patrons will turn up for a haircut and be met with this scene. (Image: 21WIRE © 2020)

Despite the trailing coronavirus numbers, local government officials continue to hold the line on coronavirus lockdowns, and the people have largely complied. But at what social and economic cost?

In the last month, state unemployment claims have skyrocketed and the Kansas Department of Labor described the volume of inquiries it has received as “unprecedented”. It was also revealed last week that the agency’s computer system used to process claims runs on a 60-year-old programming language.

While projections for new coronavirus deaths continue to fall, recent unemployment trends for Kansas and Missouri are steadily on the rise:


Chart graphic via KMBC on April 9, 2020.

And in big business news, AMC Theatres, the global cinema chain with headquarters in the KC metro, is now close to bankruptcy and has “furloughed all of its 600 corporate employees” after shutting its doors to moviegoers nationwide in mid-March.

AMC Theatres shut during prime matinee hours for moviegoers.
AMC Theatres’ flagship cinema shut its doors to moviegoers in mid-March. (Image: 21WIRE © 2020)

Even local proponents of new 5G technologies would certainly want the economy to reopen here.

Sprint, a top wireless telecom company also with headquarters in the KC metro, has now been cleared to merge and join forces with the new T-Mobile to aggressively roll-out its 5G network to “over 99 percent of the US population within six years.”

The lives of approximately 2.5 million people and thousands of businesses continue to be in ‘corona shutdown’ mode across the KC metro area.

It may only be a matter of days or weeks before people begin to wake up to the realities of Middle America during this crisis – this is not New York, the numbers don’t add up, and the social and economic way of life here needs to be restored.

READ MORE CORONAVIRUS NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Coronavirus Files

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