Steps lead up to the Kansas capitol, a domed building located in Topeka

Kansas residents react to stay-at-home orders in Douglas, Johnson and Wyandotte counties. 

KU Statehouse Wire Service 

Residents of the Kansas City area and Douglas County were the first Kansans to enter a stay-at-home order for the novel coronavirus pandemic starting Tuesday, March 24, at midnight. 

Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Quinton Lucas first issued the order for the Kansas City metro area, which was shortly followed by Douglas, Johnson, Shawnee and Wyandotte counties, who issued similar orders in Kansas.

With these new orders, University of Kansas students and faculty had a few days to shift classes from in-person to online. Nursing student Steven Harshberger said it has been interesting to see how professors are working around the transition. 

“It’s hard for the teachers to basically accommodate, as well as get the electronics set up, for a class of 120 people each time, which isn’t their forte,” Harshberger said. “It’s been really hard for them, which has made it hard for us, but they’ve been pretty good about communicating." 

On top of going online for big classes, the nursing school has postponed its clinical classes until at least April 15, but there’s still no guarantee of them coming back.

Even though the difficulties of switching to online classes have been relatively resolved for students, those who have stayed in Lawrence or those with part-time jobs have faced more hurdles. Overland Park senior Grace Chappell worked part-time as a property manager for an Airbnb and is now out of work. 

Although she said she’s only 30 minutes away from home, she would have to move in with her grandparents and further put them at risk of COVID-19, so Lawrence was her only option. Without a job, paying bills has become a much bigger problem for Chappell. 

“I definitely put it into my budget every month, and I planned on it, which sucks, so now it’s mainly just taking from my savings,” Chappell said. “It’s kind of a pain in the butt, obviously, but nothing anyone could help." 

With the stay-at-home orders, finding a part-time job is nearly impossible now for students like Chappell and Harshberger. Harshberger said he was laid off from his bartending job at Rick’s, a Lawrence bar, because of COVID-19. And, while other businesses are open, he understands the importance of closing down places like Rick’s.

Douglas County resident Nathan Burditt shared doubts about the new orders and how necessary the new safeguards are.

“They’re putting these precautions in place for a reason,” Burditt said. “But at the same time [it's] just because we’re scared of this coronavirus, and if you go back to the numbers it’s less [deaths] than the flu. I don’t think you can honestly shut down a whole country based on little knowledge.”

These new orders keep only “essential businesses” such as grocery stores, hospitals and businesses that feed into these supply chains open. While the orders are meant to limit the spread of the coronavirus, some doubt its effectiveness. Johnson County resident Joe Lange said he thinks there needs to be more done to truly stop the virus from spreading.

“The state and the law enforcement community doesn’t have enough staff to just take care of normal business like giving people traffic and speeding tickets on a regular basis,” Lange said. 

Beyond effectiveness, nursing home residents are another worry many people share because of the orders. Overland Park resident and Lange’s wife Diane McNary has been visiting her mother in her nursing home and already hasn’t been able to be within 25 feet of her mother because of the home’s guidelines.

McNary is thankful for being able to still provide supplies for her mother in any capacity, but she said she worries about her mother and the other residents more as social isolation increases in compliance with the new stay-at-home orders.

“They’re all freaking out,” McNary said. “They’re all more angry about the self-isolation than they are about getting the virus so far. I’m afraid once this starts getting worse, it’s going to start hitting, and I’m going to get phone calls from my mom like, ‘My neighbor Emma Jean went to the hospital today, and today somebody else ... ’ and pretty soon it’ll be like half the facility.”

Regardless of where residents stand on the issue, the orders are in place now for each county. For further information, Douglas County Public Health has provided a frequently asked questions page, and Johnson County has done the same.

—Edited by Emma Bascom