KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Big12 Conference’s decision to cancel the men’s and women’s conference championship basketball tournaments on March 12, 2020, was one of the first, major impacts of COVID-19 in the Kansas City area.
In the two years since that morning’s announcement, COVID-19 has continued to affect events, hospitals, schools and much more.
About two weeks after the Big12 Tournament cancellation, the Kansas City metropolitan area fell under stay-at-home orders.
Leaders asked people to only leave their houses for essential business. Schools turned to virtual learning. Movie theaters, arcades and museums were closed. Restaurants offered carry-out only service.
“Stay strong. Stay Safe. Please, stay home,” chief health officer for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, Dr. Allen Greiner said on March 21, 2020.
Tests for COVID-19 were scarce in the early days. So were face masks. By June 2020, most of Kansas and the bi-state Kansas City metropolitan area were under mask mandates.
“This is just saying how can you stop the spread from impacting others,” Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas said at the time.
In the summer of 2020, the Sprint Center, home to the Big12 Conference’s men’s basketball championship tournament, became the T-Mobile Center.
By December 2020, a COVID-19 vaccine was available to healthcare workers and then to the public at large.
Nurse Sarah Kiehl at University Health Truman Medical Center was the first person in the metro to receive the inoculation on Dec. 14, 2020.
"I was truly just overjoyed with the thought,” she told reporters that day.
By the time the 2021 Big12 Conference basketball tournaments rolled around in March, the nine-county Kansas City area was seeing some of its lowest numbers of new COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
The men’s and women’s tournaments proceeded, but with restrictions.
Arenas were limited to 20 percent capacity, fans had to wear face masks and seats were grouped together in pods of two to eight seats with each pod at least six feet away from another. There were no spirit rallies or fan fests outside the arenas.
By the summer of 2021, the delta variant sent the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spiking.
Then in the winter, the omicron variant had an even harsher impact.
The Mid-America Regional Council said the Kansas City area hit its highest number of new COVID-19 positive cases for a single day on Jan. 11, 2022, with 6,472 cases. Hospitalizations set an all-time high a few days later on Jan. 15, 2022, with 311.
“We are going to have one of the most difficult months of the pandemic,” Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at the University of Kansas Health System, predicted in early January.
Now, new cases are the lowest than they’ve been since about June 2021.
The 2022 Big12 Conference basketball tournaments are going on with no Covid-related restrictions.
Fans do not have to wear masks, they do not have to show proof of vaccination to enter arenas, there are no pods of seats. Although, venues have stepped up cleaning and sanitation protocols and placed hand sanitizer throughout the arenas.
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