November 13, 2020

Public health directors in the Kansas City metropolitan region are issuing the following joint statement on the steps needed to fight the spread of COVID-19 in our community and reduce strain on the health care system. The Mid-America Regional Council is distributing the statement on behalf of the directors.

The statement is signed by the following public health directors:

  • Rex Archer, MD, MPH, Kansas City, Missouri Health Department
  • Sanmi Areola, PhD, Johnson County Department of Health & Environment
  • Bridgette Shaffer, MPH, Jackson County Health Department
  • Mary Jo Vernon, BSN, RN, Platte County Health Department
  • Juliann Van Liew, MPH, Unified Government Public Health Department
  • Gary Zaborac, MS, Clay County Public Health Center

KC metro COVID-19 call to action

COVID-19 is surging in the KC metro area. Along with a substantial increase in cases, there is an increased demand for testing resulting in a lag in testing turn-around time, and a strain on our public health contact tracing abilities. Furthermore, on November 6, we heard from metro-area hospital Chief Medical Officers that they are facing serious challenges in their ability to manage both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. At the root of this problem is not only the number of physical acute care beds in their hospital facilities, but also staffing shortages due to the rampant community spread of COVID-19 in the metro area. Hospitals have made it very clear that they need the assistance of everyone in every community to reduce the spread of the disease and improve their ability to provide life-saving medical care.

As Health Department Directors and Health Officers representing the health departments of the Kansas City region, we fully understand the impact that stay-at-home orders have on our local economy. However, COVID-19 transmission cannot continue to rage out of control in our community given the severe strain on our health and medical systems.

The region’s local governments issued stay-at-home orders in March, and gradually lifted restrictions as community actions resulted in a reduction in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Further uncontrolled spread of this disease poses a serious threat to our businesses and local economy, creates a risk for our children’s education and well-being, and forces hospitals to possibly ration care, which would have very negative health consequences for the entire community.

Our community is at a critical point again with uncontrolled community spread. Our local governments and public health authorities need to take actions aimed at controlling the further spread of the disease. Each jurisdiction will evaluate and implement specific measures according to its local process. At a minimum, those measures should include:

  1. Continue consistent mask mandates for all activities outside the home and broaden enforcement.
  2. Limit social or other in-person gatherings to further reduce community spread of the disease
  3. Require bars and restaurants to close by 10 pm and/or implement greater requirements on occupancy limits for indoor and outdoor spaces.
  4. Place further limitations on outdoor and indoor entertainment and recreational venues.
  5. Place requirements on recreational and youth sporting events to significantly limit the number of attendees and ensure social distancing.
  6. Require businesses and organizations to ensure that the 6 feet of social distancing is maintained for all public spaces.

If the number of positive cases are not reduced and hospital capacity cannot be improved, additional action may be warranted. Local officials will be monitoring disease and hospital data over the next several weeks, knowing that Thanksgiving and other holidays pose even greater risks of uncontrolled gatherings of people with the potential to cause further spread of the disease. We fear looking at trends that the actions listed above may not be sufficient.

Therefore, we are asking all metro-area residents to do the following immediately:

  • Avoid in-person interactions. If you can work from home, do so. If you can conduct business virtually, do so. If you can provide curbside service to keep customers from gathering inside, do so. Remember, the safest place to stay is your home.
  • Wear masks everywhere, except with your immediate household. It doesn’t matter how much you trust your friends. This is not a trust issue. It’s a kindness and safety issue.
  • Avoid gatherings over 10 people. To help our residents stay connected while limiting the threat of large outbreaks, we ask everyone to identify a small group — under 10 people — that you come in regular contact with. That could be your family or perhaps another household or two that you regularly interact with. It could be close friends or colleagues. We ask that you limit your personal interactions to this group. When you see members of your group, please continue to social distance and wear masks. If any member of your group gets sick or tests positive, that person MUST alert everyone in the group, immediately, so that they can quarantine and get a test. In other words, each group must do its own contact tracing. Why? Because of the extremely high number of new cases, some local health departments must prioritize their contact tracing to focus on the most vulnerable people. That might not be you or your friends.
  • Self-quarantine when participating in large gatherings. If you have participated in a gathering such as a wedding, a party or a funeral, or if you have traveled to see others, it is our strong recommendation that you immediately self-quarantine for 14 days. This will limit the risk of transmitting COVID-19 to others. No gatherings are safe. This cannot be emphasized enough. There are not enough protections that can be in place for weddings, services, events, festivals, or a party in your own backyard that will keep people you love safe from COVID-19. We ask that you go virtual with these gatherings, or wait.
  • Hands, face, space. Now, more than ever, remember this: hands, face and space. Wash your hands regularly, cover your face with a mask and keep six feet of space between yourself and others.

We urge everyone to take these steps now to give us a chance to avoid more drastic orders. Do it for your community, for your friends and for your family.