Jackson County officials and others are working on plans to gradually lift COVID-19 restrictions, including the current stay-at-home order, beginning in less than three weeks.
For weeks least, limits on the size of gatherings are likely to remain in place, and people will be asked to wear facemasks when going out.
"Our goal quite simply is to reopen responsibly and avoid another shutdown in the future," County Administrator Troy Schulte told county legislators on Monday.
He underlined that the current stay-at-home orders in Jackson County and across most of the metro area run through May 15 and said "data does suggest … that there will be no need to extend past that date."
"It is still the consensus of the majority of the public health directors that that is a good date, so at this point the county executive is leaving that date in place," Schulte said.
The state is set to allow its less strict social distancing rules expire after this weekend, but stay-at-home orders in several larger counties remain in effect beyond that.
Jackson County plans to start outlining its reopening plan publicly in early May so businesses can make adjustments before they reopen.
The county is working with Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas to arrive at "similar dates and standards," Schulte said, adding that Kansas City, Mo., is likely to join in those plans as well. Those areas account for roughly three-fourths of the metro area’s approximately 2 million people.
"Again, we’re going to try to regionalize that plan as much as possible," Schulte said.
And he stressed that things will look different even as offices and businesses begin to reopen.
"Even when we’re reopening on May 15, we’re going to be a long ways from normal. I don’t even know what the new normal’s going to be, but we’re going to be a long ways from business as usual, even when it starts May 15," Schulte said.
Gatherings of 25
He said the county is likely to have an order after May 15 limiting gatherings to 25 people – a number that can be bumped up every few weeks if COVID cases and hospitalizations are flat or declining.
Also, people will be asked to wear masks when they go out, bars and restaurants will have to have personal protective equipment for employees, and social distancing rules will force size limitations – rising over time – for restaurants and other businesses.
What if a small business can’t get PPE, asked Legislator Jalen Anderson, D-Blue Springs. The county would recommend that they stay closed, Schulte said. Anderson said the county ought to find ways to help those businesses.
The county last week received $122.67 million from the federal government under the CARES Act passed by Congress weeks ago. That money can be spent for unanticipated costs related to COVID-19 – but not to offset revenue losses such as lower sales taxes, "which will be significant," Schulte said.
The county has so far allocated $8.5 million, much of it to Truman Medical Centers, for PPE and other costs.
Next week the Legislature will likely be asked to approve $5.3 million for contact tracing, which is tracking down those people an infected person has recently been in contact with. It’s used to determine medically who should be isolated, and it’s meant as a far more precise tool than communitywide stay-at-home orders.
Schulte said contact tracing will be needed for six to nine months, and that about 38 workers would be added for that. "We might try to leverage volunteers on top of that," he said.
Schulte also said county day camps are out for this summer, and public beaches "will probably remain closed for the entire season."
County employees have been working from home, and some will be called back to the office May 11 in preparation for opening to the public May 18 – again with limits on how many people can be in a building or office.
"We are in the mask business as well as finding gloves and all of those issues, and are trying to acquire enough of those personal protective-equipment pieces to get through 90 days upon reopening," Schulte said.
The county is also getting ready to open an isolation facility for homeless people at the Salvation Army Three Trails Camp at U.S. 40 and Lee’s Summit Road on the southern edge of Independence. Legislators signed off on that plan last week. It will be run by the Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness.
Homeless people suspected of having COVID-19 are being housed at the Rodeway Inn in Kansas City, and are to be moved to Three Trails when confirmed to have it. Schulte said positive cases are expected this week.
"The plan is to stand it up (Three Trails) this week," Schulte said.