As the delta variant of COVID-19 continues to make its way across Missouri and Kansas, local governmental and public health officials continue to examine their response.
In Kansas City, leaders are evaluating new guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying some vaccinated people should wear face masks in certain areas. School districts are considering options as kids are scheduled to return to classes after summer break. And large-scale planned events are again being talked about in the context of public safety.
Here are five of the latest headlines on COVID-19 news in Kansas City:
New CDC guidance
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a news briefing Tuesday afternoon that the agency now recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings in areas with “substantial and high transmission” of the virus. Examples of such indoor settings includes schools.
The new guidance is aimed squarely at curbing the spread of COVID-19’s highly-contagious delta variant, including among the unvaccinated and in rarer breakthrough cases where someone who has already been vaccinated tests positive for the virus.
Walensky said new data shows that the delta variant behaves differently than other strains of the virus and that in “rare occasions” some vaccinated people infected with it may be able to spread the virus to others.
“This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations,” Walensky said.
Masks in KC?
Kansas City leaders are taking cues from the CDC related to mask-wearing and social distancing and considering how they may apply locally.
In May, the CDC lifted its recommendation that everyone abide by early-pandemic rules in saying vaccinated people could ditch masks and social distancing precautions. Mayor Quinton Lucas announced at the time that the city would abandon its mask mandate on the same day, saying he did not see how the city could continue to enforce restrictions given the latest guidance.
On Tuesday, Lucas said city leaders were watching the CDC for updated guidelines and promised updates.
“Kansas City will review and provide any updates soon, with a focus on the safety and health of all in our region,” Lucas wrote on Twitter. “The increasing infection rate in our state and area is a substantial public health concern.”
On the other side of the state, leaders of the city and county of St. Louis announced a return to mask-wearing for most residents. The move came in response to heightened concerns about the spread of the delta variant.
JoCo judge ruling
A Johnson County judge decided Tuesday that his earlier ruling striking down restrictions on local health officers should remain in effect as the case is appealed.
In July, Judge David Hauber struck down sweeping changes in the state’s emergency management law, enacted by the Kansas Legislature in response to backlash from COVID-19 related restrictions. His decision came following a legal challenge to Senate Bill 40, which prevented public health officials form issuing orders without local government approval, expanded legislative review of the governor’s emergency powers and made it easier for the public to sue over mask mandates and business closures.
Hauber ruled at the time that time limits imposed on courts to rule violated due process for the government entities and separation of powers between the Legislative and Judicial branches of government. Last week Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt requested a stay that would prevent the order from being enforced until after his office had completed its appeal.
The judge’s decision has implications for the entire state of Kansas. With his refusal to grant a stay, local health officials and Gov. Laura Kelly could take advantage of restored powers to respond to the new surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant.
It could be months before the Kansas Supreme Court renders a final ruling on the matter.
School mask mandates
The Shawnee Mission school district is requiring its elementary students to wear masks this fall, making it the only district in Johnson County with a mask mandate for children who are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
The other five school districts in the county have so far made masks optional, and only strongly encourage unvaccinated students and staff to wear them.
The decision was made by a 6-1 vote of the school board on Monday night. In the rest of the Kansas City metro, Shawnee Mission is now the third district to require masks for at least some students.
Garth Brooks show
Country music star Garth Brooks is expected to draw nearly 60,000 people to his Kansas City concert at Arrowhead Stadium in two weeks, marking one of the largest-scale events for the area since COVID-19 restrictions have eased up.
In response, city officials and the Kansas City Chiefs see an opportunity to offer a vaccination site at Arrowhead during the mass gathering. They’re also cautioning guests to consider taking certain protections before enjoying the show, including mask-wearing for unvaccinated people.
Arrowhead also plans to sanitize “high-touch” areas before, during and after events with hospital-grade disinfectants, according to its website.
The Star’s Bill Lukitsch, Katie Bernard, Cortlynn Stark, Sarah Ritter and Angela Cordoba Perez contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed reporting.