A new COVID-19 health order for Sedgwick County limits public gatherings to 25 people and continues current restrictions for businesses.
The mandates are in effect Friday through Jan. 9. This latest health order from Sedgwick County Health Officer Dr. Garold Minns replaces directives that were in effect since Nov. 13.
One of the biggest changes: The current health order requires masks in all indoor settings and outdoor public gatherings, even when there’s space to social distance. It also rolls back gathering limits from 100 to 25 people.
Minns said earlier this month that the mandatory mask policy and limited contact with others reduce the risk of person-to-person transmission of the virus.
“This virus is transmitted largely through human contact," he said. "The virus cannot get into another human unless another human touches that human, or sneezes, or coughs or speaks close to their face."
The mass gathering limit does not apply to retail stores, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, large event venues that sell alcohol, fitness centers and gyms. Stores must limit the number of patrons to 50% of fire code capacity. The other businesses are required to cap occupancy at 100 people or 50% of fire code capacity, whichever is less.
Restaurants, bars and large event venues still have an 11 p.m. curfew and can’t reopen to the public until 5 a.m. Tables are restricted to eight or fewer people, and there must be six feet between tables.
Large venues are not allowed to host events that exceed the mass gathering limit.
Recreational and youth organized sports leagues and tournaments must limit attendance to two attendees per participant, and must comply with mass gathering and social distancing rules.
Commissioner Lacey Cruse said the new mandates are not as strict as the recommendations from local hospital officials.
“I am just pleading with people to do what you can to slow the spread. I believe that’s what this is for,” Cruse said Tuesday during a county commission meeting.
Officials from Wesley Medical Center addressed county leaders last week as the number of COVID-19 patients in Wichita hospitals reached their highest levels. The hospitals report near capacity levels, and have been operating under surge plans this month.
Wesley Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lowell Ebersole said the medical team recommended tighter safety precautions including no in-person dining, closing bars and event venues, no club or winter sports and limiting gatherings to fewer than 10 people.
Ebersole said current trends of new cases and the county’s rapidly rising positivity rate will likely overwhelm hospitals and staff in the next month.
The health order was signed Tuesday, but took effect the Friday after Thanksgiving. Cruse said she’s worried the mandates might not go far enough to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“We have people who will be gathering and while it’s been advised not to gather, does this order do enough so that we could enjoy a Christmas?” she asked.
The health order puts more responsibility on businesses and organizations to enforce mask rules, social distancing and capacity limits.
The county is working with cities to enforce the order. Sedgwick County commissioners approved a legal agreement with the city of Wichita on Tuesday.
An online portal is available to submit reports on businesses or organizations that violate mask rules, social distancing or capacity limits.
“I think the intention of this process is to focus on businesses or public areas where people gather that are not complying with the health order,” County Manager Tom Stolz said. “It is not designed to call if someone is not wearing a mask in a location.”
Stolz says the county health director and legal department will review each complaint and determine appropriate follow-up. The county released a flowchart of the process.
Violators could end up in court with a fine of up to $500.
New cases of COVID-19 and Sedgwick County’s positivity rate have been rapidly rising since early October.
Coronavirus Spread in Sedgwick County:
- Nov. 20: 21,517 confirmed cases
- Oct. 20: 10,683 confirmed cases
- Sept. 20: 8,235 confirmed cases
- Aug. 20: 6,451 confirmed cases
- July 20: 3,373 confirmed cases
- June 20: 930 confirmed cases
- May 20: 553 confirmed cases
- April 20: 293 confirmed cases
- March 20: 1 confirmed case