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Sedgwick County Tightens COVID-19 Restrictions, Adds Fine For Violations

Fernando Salazar
Wichita Journalism Collaborative

In response to the rising number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the area, Sedgwick County is tightening restrictions on bars, restaurants and businesses that draw large crowds.

A new public health order issued Tuesday reimposes an 11 p.m. curfew for bars, nightclubs, restaurants and social venues that serve alcohol. Those businesses, along with fitness centers and health clubs, also face a 100-person limit or 50% capacity, whichever is less.

Assistant Sedgwick County Counselor Justin Waggoner says the health order requires businesses to enforce the mandatory mask policy.

"The duty is more on the business to ensure that folks are wearing the masks," he said.

Retail businesses are also capped at 50% capacity, "based on concerns about social distancing and holiday shopping," the order reads.

Religious institutions, election polling places, licensed child care facilities, schools and courts are exempt from any restrictions.

Sedgwick County commissioners also approved a penalty process with a possible fine of up to $500 for violators. This is the first time the county has sought to enforce its health orders since the pandemic began. However, cities within Sedgwick County must consent to the enforcement within their city limits.

"We are really not anticipating having to use this very much. We hope we don’t," said County Manager Tom Stolz. "But we have to have some type of tool in the toolbox for these blatant examples where they are not even remotely close to adhering to [Health Officer] Dr. Minns’ orders."

Commissioner Lacey Cruse says it’s a step forward, but says the mandates will only work if people follow the rules.

"If we don’t communicate it, and we don’t enforce it, then it’s worthless," she said.

The county's previous health orders have largely been voluntary.

"How can we encourage to reduce transmission by changing behavior with a higher compliance rate than we have now?" County Health Officer Garold Minns asked commissioners at a special meeting last Thursday. "I think there's generally pretty good compliance with the mask order, but it's not as good as it can be."

The county reported 364 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 15,468. The two-week positive test rate is 22.7%; it has more than tripled in the past month.

Commission Chairman Pete Meitzner and commissioners Cruse and David Dennis voted to approve the order.  Commissioners Jim Howell and Michael O'Donnell voted no. 

The health order goes in effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and lasts through Dec. 31.

Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.