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Nick’s Picks | Line Forms for COVID-19 Vaccine, Electoral College Meets Hopes for Christmas Stimulus Hang in the Balance

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

This week, Kansas Citians will finally get their first doses of the long awaited COVID-19 vaccine.

Missouri’s top health official, Randall Williams, says those first shots are scheduled to happen Thursday. 

The first people to be vaccinated will be frontline health care staff who work with COVID-19 patients. Then it will go to other health workers.

Next on the priority list is staff and residents at long-term care facilities. Williams says roughly two-thirds of the state’s nursing homes will be vaccinated by the end of the month.

In January, attention will turn to people over 65 and those with chronic conditions like heart disease.

The vaccination of essential workers is still months away. Emergency responders, teachers, farmers, meatpackers, bus drivers, delivery and grocery store workers may have to wait until spring.

But we’re just learning that the shots will be administered on the honor system.  In other words, if you say you’re a UPS driver no one is going to argue with you. Apparently, there is no approved list of people who are eligible to receive the vaccination and you won’t be required to show proof of employment. 

Meanwhile, the rest of us will have to wait until late April for our shots. Officials in Kansas and Missouri say they expect everyone who wants the vaccine will be able to get it by July.

We’re also getting a little more clarity on the vaccine’s cost. The federal government has mandated that the shots be offered free, but providers are allowed to charge a $23 administration fee.

Thanksgiving Surge

While the new vaccine will dominate news coverage this week, local government and public health leaders will be keeping an eye on the numbers. 

This week, we’ll learn the full extent of how family gatherings and Thanksgiving travel affected our community’s health. Will there be a surge in coronavirus infections? 

Those numbers will be released just as USA Today investigates the pandemic’s deadliest place in America. And guess what? They find it in Kansas. 

As of last week, the virus has killed a higher percentage of Gove County, Kansas, residents than any other county in the United States. One out of every 132 people have died in the county, which is centered on the town of Quinter. You pass through it on your way to Colorado. It’s on Interstate 70, between Hays and Colby.

Electoral College Meets

We may have cast our ballots for president more than a month ago, but the votes that officially matter will be cast today. That’s when the Electoral College meets. 

The Electoral College isn’t actually one place. Each state’s electors meet in a location chosen by their legislature.

In Kansas, that meeting happens today at noon in the chamber of the Kansas House of Representatives in Topeka. 

Missouri’s 10 electors will meet two hours later in the Senate Lounge on the third floor of the capitol building in Jefferson City. 

President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden
This combination of Sept. 29, 2020, file photos shows President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo | Patrick Semansky, File)

So who are these electors? Well, they are a combination of party leaders and elected officials who are bound by honor to vote for the person who won the state’s popular vote.

When they come together, it’s a decidedly low tech affair. Electors cast their votes by paper ballot. The votes get counted and the electors sign special certificates affirming the result.

That doesn’t mean the proceedings are devoid of drama.

Four years ago in Kansas, the entire visitors gallery turned their backs on the electors while the vote got underway.  They were adamant that Donald J. Trump was not the legitimate president of the United States and wanted the electors to pick someone else.

You can watch both affairs online. The Missouri meeting is being live-streamed on the governor’s Facebook page

In Kansas, you can watch the live vote on the Kansas legislature’s YouTube channel.

Fewer Buses

Rising COVID-19 cases in our metro are wreaking havoc on our bus system. If you rely on public transit, recheck the schedule. 

Starting today, RideKC is cutting four bus routes due to staffing shortages. With a number of drivers testing positive or in quarantine, our metro’s largest bus service is struggling to keep the system operating. 

Who gets hurt by that? How about hundreds of essential workers who depend on the bus to get them to their jobs. It’s also yet another burden on low income residents who need the service to go to the grocery store, pick up prescriptions or get to medical appointments.

Affordable Housing

The Kansas City Council takes up affordable housing this week. If you’ve ever asked yourself who is moving into all these new luxury apartments around town, City Hall wants to know too — and it wants to make sure lower income residents aren’t being pushed aside.

On Wednesday, a council committee will debate a plan that would deny tax incentives to any housing developer who doesn’t set aside 20% of their new units for affordable housing. 

If the idea sounds familiar, it is. The council proposed this before, but it never happened. One sticking point is the definition of affordable. For some developers, $1,500 a month fits that definition. But for many struggling families that’s way out of reach.

Christmas Stimulus?

Would it be a Christmas miracle if Congress agreed to a new stimulus package this week? Your local members of Congress are still working on it.  In a rare bi-partisan move, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley has joined Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in calling for a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks. Under the proposal, couples could claim $2,400 and families would receive $500 per child. 

How does that sound?

The whole deal could still fall through and the final cash payments could be cut in half, but it’s a signal that both parties want to see money in the hands of Americans as the pandemic continues.

Last Call for Bluestem

This is your last week to experience one of Kansas City’s most acclaimed restaurants. Bluestem closes its doors for good on Saturday.

Nominated for four James Beard Awards, the eatery on Westport Road had been open for 17 years. It joins a growing list of local restaurants that have permanently shut their doors this year.

Resurrecting Disney in KC

Have they finally found the winning formula to reopen Walt Disney’s former studio in Kansas City?

This week, you can get your first peek inside the building where Disney created the original Mickey Mouse. After years of false starts, his former Laugh-O-Gram studio is now being transformed. 

Enter the world of the famous animator from Missouri who made Kansas City his early home, this Thursday at 6 p.m.

This is a free virtual event. But you do need to reserve your spot online.

Bah Humbug!

In a year in which toilet paper and Tums have been unexpectedly hard to find, there’s no shortage of Ebenezer Scrooge. 

This week, from the comfort of your couch you can watch four different versions of “A Christmas Carol.”

And we helped create one of them. Kansas City PBS recently collaborated with the Kansas City Repertory Theatre on a fireside version of the Charles Dickens classic. The Rep offered it up as a paid screening event. Now you can watch it for free this Thursday night at 7 p.m

 Kansas City PBS recently collaborated with the Kansas City Repertory Theatre on a fireside version of the Charles Dickens classic, "A Christmas Carol."
Kansas City PBS recently collaborated with the Kansas City Repertory Theatre on a fireside version of the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol.” You can watch it for free this Thursday night at 7 p.m

You can also see the great-great-grandson of Dickens offer up his rendition of the ghostly holiday tale in which he plays all 26 characters. Gerald Dickens performs courtesy of the Mid-Continent Public Library this Tuesday at 10 a.m. You can also catch a performance this Saturday at 6 p.m. You can reserve your free virtual seat on the library’s website.

Not to be outdone, the Heat of America Shakespeare Festival brings you its reimagined take on the Scrooge story. This time he’s a wealthy theater owner haunted by Shakespearean characters including Falstaff and King Hamlet. 

The virtual curtain opens this Friday at 6:30 p.m. and your seat is free. 

Details on how to watch can be found at the Shakespeare Festival’s website.

And if you’re like me and don’t think your holiday is complete without watching “A Christmas Carol,” the Carlsen Center at Johnson County Community College has hired hundreds of puppets to tell a new version of the Dickens story. There are virtual performances all week, starting this Wednesday. Tickets for the live stream cost $20.  

Year in Review on Week in Review

And finally… 

I want to unashamedly promote one of my favorite programs of the entire year. It’s Week in Review’s “Year in Review” special.

In game show style, we take you through the most memorable moments and newsmakers of 2020.

Expect laughter, tears, astonishing insight and heartwarming stories from your favorite panelists. 

From the most over-reported and under-covered stories of the year, to the story we’d most like to forget.

And we’ll gaze into the crystal ball to predict what you can expect in 2021.

It all comes your way Friday, Dec. 18 at 7:30 p.m. on Kansas City PBS.

Nick Haines tracks the metro’s most important local news stories on “Kansas City Week in Review.” Watch Friday at 7:30 p.m. on Kansas City PBS.

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