Sedgwick County’s top health official has issued a mandatory face mask order, the latest effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Health Officer Garold Minns said Wednesday his decision was prompted by a 29% increase in COVID-19 cases in the past week. The number of active cases in Sedgwick County rose by more than 300 in one week, and has more than doubled in the past two weeks.
The emergency public health order begins Friday, and will last until at least midnight on Aug. 9. Minns’ order also limits gatherings to 45 people.
"This combination offers the best chance for us to diminish this invisible virus," he said during a media briefing.
Minns' order goes against an earlier decision by county commissioners to opt out of Gov. Laura Kelly's statewide mask mandate. The commission has the authority to modify or override the new county order.
Under Minns' order, most people will be required to wear a face mask indoors and in outdoor public spaces where social distancing of six feet isn't possible, similar to the mask policy approved Friday in the City of Wichita. Unlike the city's ordinance, which includes possible penalties for violations, the county health order "cannot be enforced through criminal charges, fine, or civil penalties."
Other county officials say the growing number of positive COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks is stressing efforts to contain the disease.
On Wednesday, the state health department reported more than 700 new COVID-19 cases statewide with two more deaths. The cumulative totals show 17,618 cases and 282 deaths. At least 1,269 people needed hospital treatment. Sedgwick County added 51 COVID-19 cases, bringing its total to 1,703 with 28 related deaths. Active cases increased by 33 to 890 people fighting infections.
Deputy County Manager Tim Kaufman said limited staffing means the health department takes longer to work through every positive case.
"These positive results are stressing the system that we have in place, so we’ll continue to ask for additional staff," he told commissioners Wednesday.
The county has already hired more than three dozen people for the health department and will soon add up to 115 more. County commissioners this week approved spending about $25 million from the federal CARES Act funding for the health department’s COVID testing needs.
Kaufman said the county would like to have two teams doing both drive-thru and mobile COVID-19 testing.