BY JOE ARCE AND COREY CRABLE


Kansas Citians say their lives – at home, at work, and in the classroom, continue to shift as countries across the globe report more cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) every day.

Recently, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas issued a “Stay at Home” order for all Kansas Citians the order took effect at midnight March 24. Designed to help slow community spread of the virus, the mayor’s order requires all Kansas City residents to stay home except when participating in nonessential activities. Activities that are considered essential include trips to the grocery store, pharmacy, gas station, and hospital.

County officials on both sides of the state line – so far, Johnson, Jackson, and Wyandotte -- will abide by that same “Stay at Home” mandate until April 24. Like Kansas City, those similar orders went into effect early Tuesday morning.

“We are asking our entire community to unite to prevent the spread of this virus and appreciate everyone’s cooperation during this time,” Lucas said in a prepared statement. “I understand the financial and emotional toll this virus has taken on Kansas City families and businesses, and I am working my hardest to create every opportunity possible to ease some of this financial burden. We have suspended all water and electricity shut-offs and have issued a moratorium on evictions, but I know our work for those struggling most continues.”

According to Lucas’ order, funerals, wakes, and memorial services are not considered essential activities.

The mayor’s written statement also notes that the closure of schools on the Missouri side of the state line has been extended to Friday, April 24. Daycare facilities and early childhood programs are exempt from that closure.

On the Kansas side, Johnson County public health officials announced the county’s first coronavirus death on March 21. The deceased was reported as being a hospitalized male in his 70s with underlying health issues and no travel history.

As of Sunday, March 22, the state of Missouri has reported 90 cases of coronavirus, and three deaths from the virus the state of Kansas has reported 56 cases and two deaths. The department of health in both states updates those numbers daily.

The closure of restaurant dining rooms in every state has had a swift and painful effect on business owners. Agustin Juarez, owner of Los Alamos, says his business is down about 50 percent since his eat in restaurant had to close. The restaurant is still taking carryout orders, but it does not offer delivery service.

“I’m not used to seeing the tables clear with no customers in. I’m just here, surviving,” Juarez says. “This is everywhere. There are still loyal customers coming in, some from the neighborhood, some from far away.”

Juarez says that in the days before Mayor Lucas’ State of Emergency declaration, business was strong for Los Alamos – it was so good, in fact, he had to hire some new employees to help.

Now, Juarez’s list of employees, which includes his wife, his son and his daughter, has shrunken quickly. Juarez recently had to make the agonizing decision to lay off a few employees. Now, he just hopes his business stays open another day, serving customers from near and far.

“At the end of the day, I go home, thank God, and hope I’m coming back the next day,” he says. Juarez says that even though his restaurant faces an uncertain future, he tries not to let his customers see him worry. Juarez says that, especially now, he is thankful for every customer who walks through the doors of his restaurant.

“My customers ask me, ‘How is the business?’ I just tell them that it’s in God’s hands,”
Juarez says. “I make up something to make them smile, to make them forget about what we’re all going through.”

It’s that positive attitude that can be difficult to maintain, Juarez says, but it is needed right now.

“People have been calling and asking if we’re open,” Juarez says. “I joke and say, ‘The only time we’re not open is if I’m dead.’”

On the other side of the country, a Kansas City transplant lives in Los Angeles, where the world is very similar and life feels like it’s come to a standstill. Born in Kansas City, Victor Ramirez has lived in L.A. for the past 33 years. Like everyone else, he remains isolated from much of the outside world.

Ramirez says that lately, his daily routine includes having breakfast, going out for a walk around the neighborhood, then coming home and spending time drawing and sketching.

“I’m happy with the stuff I’ve done,” he says. “It’s what I’m doing to keep myself entertained.”

Ramirez is sharing that passion for art with his family and others in the community, doing art tutorials via Skype or Facetime with family members. He also has given away a set of colored pencils to area children in an attempt to keep them busy.

“Children, they’re like walking batteries,” he says. “They never run out of energy.”

Ramirez admits he is frustrated with the actions of one prominent Californian – former governor and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who recently posted a video about his own self-isolation. In the video, Schwarzenegger is seen chomping down on a cigar while relaxing in a hot tub.

It’s a message that appears incredibly insensitive to the real struggles that working-class Americans are having to endure, Ramirez says.

“I did resent that, because there are a lot of people who cannot afford to be in that kind of comfort. I was very displeased with what he did, like he’s showing off that, ‘I’m gonna be fine,’“ Ramirez says. “Well, if you’re gonna be fine, what about the rest of us, especially the homeless? It’s very hard to take him seriously.”

California is among the hardest hit with the COVID-19, Ramirez says he thinks California Governor Gavin Newsom is doing all he can to address keeping Californians safe, but he blames the domestic growth of COVID-19 spread on the Trump administration.

“I put a lot of the blame on Trump,” he says. “We’re hearing senators received word of this and took action on their own stock investments. They don’t have this under control.”

Ramirez says the changes he has seen in his own community and beyond are shocking.

“I told my sister, I’ve never been afraid of dying. And she said, ‘You’re afraid of living.’ I have to agree,” Ramirez says. “It’s very difficult to be alive and not worry. I’m retired financially, I’m fine. But it’s very difficult out here. When I go out walking, all of the driveways are full nobody is going anywhere.”

Still, he believes in that by coming together – in spirit, at least – all will eventually be right in the world.

“The time to unite is right now,” Ramirez says. “We will get through this.”

For updates on rates of infection, as well as what state health department officials are doing to help address community spread, visit www.kdheks.gov and health.mo.gov.