Sedgwick County health officer recommends steps to limit coronavirus spread

Sedgwick County’s health officer made recommendations to county commissioners Tuesday to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus and also limit the impact on the local economy.

Dr. Garold Minns talked to commissioners in a staff meeting in response to Governor Laura Kelly’s announcement that the wearing of masks would be required across the state.  He presented three basic recommendations:

–Restrictions on large groups of people coming in from out-of-state for events such as sports tournaments.  Dr. Minns said the visitors may be coming in from areas that are hot spots for COVID-19 activity, and there is no way of screening them.  

–Restricting restaurants and retail businesses to 50 percent of capacity at any one time.  Dr. Minns said officials in the restaurant industry had recommended that in early discussions on coronavirus precautions.

–Masks should be mandated or strongly encouraged.  Dr. Minns said masks are not 100 percent effective, but they do reduce transmission from person to person.   

Dr. Minns suggested that the recommendations could be in place for at least a month and then re-evaluated at the end of July.   He said he doesn’t see the coronavirus going away and the community will have to continue the use of masks and social distancing and other behaviors until a vaccine and treatment can be developed.

In response to concerns about the effects of wearing masks, Dr. Minns said some may people may have a feeling of claustrophobia, but there is no data that shows harmful health effects from wearing masks.   He said some surgeons operate with masks on for as much as 12 hours a day, and there have been no reports of ill effects.   He doesn’t recommend wearing an N-95 mask all day but a surgical mask or cloth mask would be easy to wear.    He said he’s not suggesting wearing a mask all day long, but only during times when you’re around other people and unable to maintain a six-foot distancing.

Governor Kelly is expected to release guidelines for masks on Thursday, and commissioner Jim Howell suggested a special meeting after the governor’s announcement to decide on a course of action.   The commissioners also plan to meet with business leaders to talk about coronavirus precautions.

Goddard police chief Fred Farris sent a message on Twitter Tuesday saying his department would not be enforcing a mask requirement without action from the legislature, the state attorney general or the county commission.   There’s no word from Wichita police or the Sedgwick County sheriff’s office on a mask requirement, but county commissioners were planning to consult with them after the governor’s guidelines are announced.