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Sedgwick County Closes Bars, Limits Gathering Size In Response To COVID-19 Surge

Sedgwick County, YouTube
Sedgwick County Health Officer Dr. Garold Minns issues an emergency public health order shutting down bars and nightclubs to prevent coronavirus infections.

A new public health order in Sedgwick County shuts down bars and nightclubs, and further limits the size of gatherings.

Sedgwick County’s health officer Dr. Garold Minns issued the restrictions Wednesday in response to a surge of coronavirus infections. Theemergency public health order he signed replaces the one issued on July 9.

Minns says the mandatory mask policy is working, but now it’s time to pull back on community activity.

“Our numbers have gone up ten-fold in six weeks. So I feel very strongly that we need to do what we can to get this thing back under control,” Minns told county leaders at a meeting.

Minns’ order adopts Phase 2 of Governor Laura Kelly’s Ad Astra reopening plan, with some modifications. The public gathering limit drops from 45 to 15 people, with exemptions. The mass gathering limit does not apply to religious institutions, election polling places, licensed childcare facilities, schools and court facilities.

Bars and nightclubs would be allowed to do curbside or carryout business while they temporarily close.

Outdoor and indoor entertainment venues are allowed to operate as long as they comply with mass gatherings requirements, and the total number of attendees does not exceed 2,000 people.

Fairs, parades and festivals are not allowed.

Recreational, youth, or other non-professional organized sports facilities, sports tournaments, sports games, and sports practices may open or occur.

The mandatory mask policy continues under the new order. People are required to wear masks in indoor and outdoor spaces when social distancing isn’t possible.

“Wearing a mask in public is the easiest and most effective way to protect each other, help keep our businesses open and our economy running, and get children back to school as soon as possible,” Minns said.

Credit Sedgwick County, YouTube
Sedgwick County commissioner approve four adjustments to Minns' health order, including moving up expiration date to August 21.

Sedgwick County commissioners approved four adjustments to the health order Wednesday: Restaurants that serve alcohol no longer have to close at midnight; municipal swimming pools won’t be closed; kids under 11 are exempt from mask policy; and the public health order will expire on Aug. 21 instead of Sept. 9.

The amendments passed by a vote of 4-1, with Commissioner Michael O’Donnell the lone no vote.

“I can’t emphasize enough to the public that we need to please keep working [on using COVID-19 safety practices] because we want to keep the businesses open and get the kids back in school," said Commission Chairman Pete Meitzner. "That’s the goal."

Sedgwick County had 600 COVID-19 cases in late May when restrictions on public activity lifted. This week, the county’s cumulative total passed 2,900 cases, with 33 deaths. The average positive test rate grew from 1% in May to about 12% this week.

Minns says the disease spread has shifted to the younger population. He says 82% of people recently infected were under 60 years old; 55% were under 40.

“We have more patients in the hospital today than we’ve ever had. We have more employees at our hospitals who are sick and at home with COVID now than we’ve ever had,” Minns said.

The health directive is based on voluntary compliance and cannot be enforced through criminal charges, fines, or civil penalties.

The city of Wichita issued a mandatory mask policy for city limits July 2 after Sedgwick County commissioners opted out of the statewide mandate.

“Because we didn’t open slowly, because we didn’t require masks as a condition to reopen," Commissioner Lacey Cruse said during Wednesday’s meeting, "we have an entire industry of workers that are about to be out of work because some of you are unwilling to do your job."

Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

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.