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Nick’s Picks | Chiefs, COVID Dominate Headlines This Week Your look at the week ahead, before it happens…

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Above image credit: "Kansas City Week in Review" host Nick Haines. (John McGrath | Flatland)
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5 minute read

For many Kansas Citians, the Chiefs will be the biggest story of the week. 

The road to the Super Bowl winds through Kansas City on Sunday as the Chiefs take on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Wild Card game starts at 7:15 p.m. at Arrowhead Stadium.

Chiefs flag waves in Arrowhead Stadium.
Training camp returns to St. Joe, Missouri in 2021. (Courtesy | Kansas City Chiefs)

Kansas Lawmakers Return

Kansas lawmakers head back to Topeka today to kick off their 2022 legislative session.

A raft of bills have already been pre-filed to restrict vaccine mandates and to limit how race is taught in schools. 

Meanwhile, Gov. Laura Kelly will be trying to win legislative approval for “axing” the state sales tax on food and a new proposal to use federal pandemic windfall money to cut $250 rebate checks to every Kansas taxpayer. 

Also watch for renewed efforts to expand Medicaid in Kansas and the legalization of medical marijuana.

Kansas is one of only three states to resist any loosening of its cannabis laws. And more than a decade after the passage of Obamacare, Kansas is one of 12 states that has refused to expand its Medicaid program. 

Kansas State of the State Address

Tuesday night Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly will deliver what could be her final state of the state address.

The Democratic governor is waging a tough campaign for reelection in a year expected to be favorable to Republicans. In fact, Kelly is the only Democratic governor running for reelection in a state Donald Trump won in 2020. 

With the stakes so high, Kelly will deliver her speech in person at the statehouse before a joint assembly of state lawmakers. 

You may recall that last year Kelly chose to deliver a virtual address.

New Biden Vaccine Mandate Starts This Week

President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate for large businesses starts this week. 

Effective today, Kansas City companies with 100 employees or more are expected to require workers to be fully vaccinated or provide a negative COVID test result weekly.

A firm can be fined $13,600 per violation. But Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials say they won’t start issuing citations until Feb. 9.

But will the mandate even last that long? Could it be struck down as early as this week?

The Supreme Court met Friday to hear arguments over the constitutionality of the vaccine mandate.

The court promised a fast decision. A ruling could come as soon as today. 

COVID Home Tests

Are you struggling to find a COVID test on Kansas City pharmacy shelves?

Now you can get a free rapid test for every member of your family, courtesy of the federal government.

After months of delay, the White House is ready to ship out the first of more than 500 million test kits to households. 

But they’re not going to be mailed to your home automatically. You’re going to have to go online and order them. 

The government’s new website is scheduled to go online this week. But there are still lots of questions about how it will all work. 

Will you be able to order multiple tests or just one at a time? And if that’s the case, how frequently will you be able to request more? 

The Biden administration is paying for the program with money from the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill signed into law in March.  

COVID Still Dominates Headline

It’s not how we wanted to start the new year, but COVID is still dominating our local new headlines. It remains the most unpredictable story of the week.

Just days after local hospital leaders described gridlocked emergency rooms, a lack of hospital beds and a record number of employees out sick, some health indicators have only become worse.

  • Last week, KU Hospital was reporting 500 staffers sidelined with COVID. As we start this week, that number now tops 900.
  • Research Medical Center has brought in a national medical disaster team to help relieve staff shortages. The 15-member unit dispatched by the federal government started over the weekend.
  • Just to the west of the metro in Emporia, Kansas, local elected leaders declared a COVID emergency after its main hospital ran out of ventilators. 

New School Mask Mandates

The Park Hill School District is the latest area school system now requiring students to mask up. 

The new mandate takes effect this week. 

Last week, Kansas City government leaders reinstated mandatory mask-wearing for all K-12 schools in the city.

In the last few days, Lee’s Summit, North Kansas City, Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission school districts have also brought back mask rules due to high rates of COVID spread.

Teacher Shortage

It’s not just students getting sick with COVID, it’s the staff. And it’s causing an unprecedented teacher shortage.

This week, the Kansas Board of Education will consider loosening the rules for substitute teachers. 

Up for discussion is a proposal to lift a requirement that subs have at least 60 hours of coursework at an accredited college or university.

The board is expected to vote on the change on Wednesday.

The state’s largest teachers union is opposing the idea.  Officials with the Kansas National Education Association say lowering standards isn’t the solution and it will only hurt the education students get.

Kansas isn’t the only state considering reducing rules for substitute teachers. Missouri has already reduced its education requirement from 60 college credits to requiring only a high school diploma. 

More COVID Restrictions?

While there seems to be no political appetite for widespread mask mandates or new business lockdowns, this week could see isolated pockets of new restrictions in the metro. 

Here’s some news developments to be paying attention to this week:

  • The Roeland Park City Council will hold a special meeting tonight to consider implementing an indoor mask mandate. It would be one of the only cities in the metro requiring everyone to wear a face covering.
  • The chancellor of the University of Kansas is threatening to limit attendance at KU basketball games this week. That comes after complaints fans haven’t been following mask rules at Allen Fieldhouse.
  • The Royals have canceled FanFest for a second straight year. But is that an isolation decision or will it set off a new round of postponements and cancellations of big events in the metro?

Store Closings

Another wave of uncertainty over COVID is prompting a new round of business closings.

Victoria Secret will shut its doors on the Country Club Plaza on Saturday. The lingerie retailer has been there for more than 20 years. 

Macy’s is shuttering its Lee’s Summit store. A clearance sale is expected to start later this week.

A final clearance sale is also underway at J. Crew in Town Center Plaza. The clothing retailer is closing its Leawood location after 13 years. 

‘Full Accreditation’ for KC Schools?

It was a big local news story when the Kansas City Public Schools lost its state accreditation. 

Will it be just as big a headline if the district wins it back?

For the first time in more than a decade, Kansas City schools could be fully accredited this week.

District leaders are hopeful.

Accreditation is considered important because it measures schools’ success in graduation rates, test scores and how prepared students are for careers and college. 

Kansas City Public Schools was the first district in the nation to lose its accredited status by failing all of Missouri’s performance standards. 

Restaurant Week Begins 

Kansas City Restaurant Week returns on Friday.

It comes as many local eateries struggle with staffing as the omicron variant surges across the metro.

The 13th annual event features 10 days of special meal deals and discounted multi-course menus designed to encourage you to try new restaurants. 

More than 175 Kansas City area eateries are participating, from Johnson County to the Northland. 

With renewed pandemic worries, most restaurants are offering carryout and delivery deals as well.

A portion of this year’s proceeds will go towards funding social and educational programs at Kansas City’s Guadalupe Center. 

You can find a list of all the participating restaurants here, along with their menus, hours and more.

Nick Haines dissects the week’s most impactful local news stories, Fridays at 7:30 p.m. on Kansas City PBS.

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