Independence Mayor Eileen Weir declared a state of emergency Thursday as a precaution over concerns over the coronavirus.
She declared the state of emergency in order to activate the city’s emergency operations plan, though she emphasized there have been no confirmed cases in the city of COVID-19, the coronavirus that has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
Unlike Kansas City’s declaration that lasts for 21 days, Independence’s state of emergency does not have a specified time span. Weir said more details about services with the state of emergency would be released Friday.
“We expect that many non-essential events will be canceled or postponed in the coming weeks, and some facilities will be closed,” Weir said during Thursday’s news conference, though she didn’t give advised capacity cap for gatherings like Kansas City did, limiting those to 1,000 persons or fewer.
“Our city staff will be providing limited services while we focus on issues of health and safety,” she said. “This declaration is to protect our community.”
Later Thursday, Jackson County Executive Frank White also issued a state of emergency, and his declaration included the 1,000-or-less limit.
As of Thursday evening the only known coronavirus case in Missouri was in the St. Louis area, but five cases, including one death, have been confirmed in Johnson and Wyandotte counties, in Kansas.
“We have many citizens who are aging in place who have vulnerabilities to COVID-19, and we are doing this out of an abundance of caution for the public health,” Weir said.
“We take this decision very seriously and will continue to work with our peers in the region and state and federal agencies. This declaration is out of an abundance of caution to make sure we can respond immediately when it is needed.”
The mayor also urged citizens “to use their best judgment in attending events and participating in events that are non-essential.”
Weir called a special City Council meeting for 6 p.m. Friday, regarding the emergency and to handle some of Monday’s scheduled agenda. The scheduled Monday and March 23 council study session meetings have been canceled.
Independence Fire Chief Doug Short said his firefighters have special protective gear ready to use if warranted. Depending on the call, he said, an initial first responder could come up to a building first and ask some questions before more crew members come in.
“We have protective equipment that’s been in place for many years; now you might see it used a little more often,” Short said. “What the public needs to know is, yeah, we might look a little different coming into the house now.”
Independence School District Superintendent Dale Herl said the Jackson County Health Department has not advised that the district proactively close, and they will continue to stay in daily contact with health officials.
The district, Herl said in a video message, “provides a critical role in providing stability for students and staff,” and he said the schools have been taking deep-cleaning and disinfectant measures in buildings and buses.
Also from around the area:
• The city of Blue Springs is not declaring a state of emergency at this time, a spokesperson said.
“We urge our citizens to continue utilizing CDC guidelines in order to protect themselves from the virus and the spread of other contagious germs,” spokesperson Miranda Austerman said.
• Metropolitan Community College announced that all campuses, including the Blue River one in eastern Independence, will close at 4 p.m. Thursday and will remain closed through the end of spring break, which is March 21.
• The Heritage Philharmonic (formerly Independence Symphony) concert scheduled for Sunday afternoon at Kauffman Center’s Helzberg Hall has been postponed, with a makeup date to be determined. The special concert is part of Heritage Philharmonic celebrating its 75th anniversary.
• The 16th Circuit Court in Jackson County suspended jury trials, small claims hearings, landlord-tenant cases and full orders of protection hearings starting Monday until March 27, and all hearings involving defendants in detention will be conducted via videoconference.
• Silverstein Eye Centers Arena suspended all events and activities through April 5.