Lawrence economy braces for coronavirus hit; congressional delegation working to get federal help for university communities

photo by: Jackson Barton/Journal-World File Photo

The Douglas County Courthouse and downtown Lawrence are pictured in an aerial photo Saturday, July 13, 2019.

Bars in the Lawrence area got what Rob Farha called “two bonus Sundays” this year with the Kansas City Chiefs’ journey to the AFC Championship Game and ultimate Super Bowl victory.

But those two bonus days pale in comparison to the profits bars could have brought in during the 2020 NCAA Tournament, in which the University of Kansas men’s basketball team was widely expected to make a deep run.

Then, concerns about the coronavirus forced the tournament’s cancellation.

That alone probably cost area bars 10 times what they made from those Chiefs bonus days, said Farha, who owns The Wheel.

The tournament’s cancellation was tough enough to stomach. Then KU students were told Tuesday to pack their belongings and work from wherever home is for the rest of the academic year as the virus spreads throughout the world.

Not having KU’s 23,000-plus student body around campus already has had drastic effects on the local economy.

“We’re closing up. We’re a student-based, student-driven business,” Farha said.

The Wheel, 507 W. 14th St., normally closes for the summer months while students are away, so Farha has to treat the current situation like a five-month shutdown rather than the normal two months.

“It’s tough,” he said. “Something like this has never happened before. It’s an unknown answer. What do we do?”

Farha’s situation is a microcosm of what faces the Lawrence economy, as well as the broader Kansas and U.S. economies. A global pandemic has shut down numerous public businesses in the interest of safety, leaving many struggling to make ends meet.

Bonnie Lowe, president of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, told the Journal-World the true economic impact of COVID-19 on the Lawrence economy wouldn’t be known for some time.

“We are so sympathetic to our local businesses and their finances and the impact this has on their companies,” Lowe said.

The Chamber has been in contact daily with local, state and federal authorities on how best to address the economic blows coming to local businesses. The organization has a list of resources on its website,, for how businesses can stay financially solvent during a period where the community stays healthy by staying home.

All things considered, Lowe said she has been amazed at how the local community has pulled together during trying times.

“Many of these people need this income to pay their bills. But the community is rallying and pulling together,” she said. “People are very aware of not only personal financial implications, but also how it affects others. It’s a very unselfish attitude.”

Members of Kansas’ congressional delegation told the Journal-World that federal action may help soften the economic burden faced by communities across the state, and that there could be some special help for university communities.

“Congress is working in bicameral and bipartisan fashion on a stimulus plan that will help all Americans,” GOP Rep. Steve Watkins said in a statement. “I will continue to work with my colleagues and President Trump’s administration to ensure our communities have the necessary resources to not only beat this virus, but come out even stronger on the other side.”

The Senate on Wednesday afternoon passed a coronavirus relief package that provides employees paid leave, enhanced unemployment benefits for those laid off during the pandemic, free testing for the virus, and food and health care aid.

Congress is continuing to work out the details of an additional stimulus bill estimated to be worth $1 trillion. That bill is where local economies could see the biggest impact.

“Communities across the state, especially those like Lawrence and Manhattan that rely on out-of-town students, are feeling the effects of educational institutions moving to online formats,” Republican Rep. Ron Estes told the Journal-World. “I’m encouraged by the discussions of the next bill that will build on those small business and worker provisions and help stabilize local economies.”

A spokesperson for Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran told the Journal-World it’s possible that some funding in the $1 trillion stimulus package gets allocated to help higher education institutions soften the economic burden the virus will cause.

More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As the pandemic continues, the Journal-World will be making coverage of COVID-19 available outside of the paywall on

Find all coverage of city, county and state responses to the virus at:

What to do if you think you may have COVID-19

Patients who have symptoms — difficulty breathing, cough and fever — should stay home, immediately isolate themselves from others and call their health care providers. Patients should never show up unannounced at a medical office or hospital. Instead, they should call ahead to explain their symptoms and give health care workers the ability to minimize the risk to others.

If patients do not have health care providers, they may call the Lawrence Douglas-County health department’s coronavirus line, 785-856-4343.

For updated information on the outbreak, Kansas residents can email or call 866-534-3463 (866-KDHEINF), which is staffed 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

More information can be found through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website or the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health website.

Contact Conner Mitchell

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