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Sedgwick County Drops Curfew For Bars And Restaurants; Eases Gathering Restrictions

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As the COVID-19 infection rate falls to its lowest in months, Sedgwick County is beginning to ease some health restrictions.

Beginning Saturday, bars and restaurants that serve alcohol can once again stay open until 2 a.m., instead of midnight. They’ve been under some form of curfew since July.

A new health order, signed Friday and in effect until March 20, also loosens a restriction on large gatherings. Mid-size venues that hold 400 to 1,000 people can host events at up to 25% capacity. A previous health order capped gatherings at 100 people.

Deputy County Manager Tom Stolz said at a news conference Friday that the new order comes in response to the falling number of COVID-19 cases in the area. On Friday, the county recorded 59 new cases, bringing the total to 44,602, and no new deaths. The positive test rate was 4.3%.

“We’ve gone under the 5% infection rate [for] the first time [since] very early October," Stolz said, "so almost four months since we’ve been to the infection rate that we’re at today."

The infection rate rose rapidly last fall, reaching about 20% in mid-November; it’s fallen steadily since.

But this week, the new head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of a “shift in trajectory” as new, more transmissible strains spread in the U.S.

“Now is not the time to relax restrictions,” Rochelle Walensky said.

Sedgwick County identified its first case last week of a coronavirus variant more commonly found in the UK; it’s the second confirmed case of the variant in Kansas. The county health department says the man contracted it while traveling out of state.

The county is now offering the vaccine to residents 65 and older, lowering the age restriction from 70. It’s also working with schools to vaccinate all K-12 teachers and staff.

Stolz said the county should be able to move to the next step in Phase 2 of the vaccination plan — certain essential workers — in about three weeks.