New health order aimed at reducing coronavirus spread in Sedgwick County

Sedgwick County commissioners have reviewed a new health order from the county’s local health officer, with new restrictions on mass gatherings and other steps to limit the spread of COVID-19.

During a special meeting Tuesday, the commission allowed the order to go into effect without changes.   Mass gatherings will be limited to 100 people or 50 percent of the fire code capacity, whichever is less.   People will be required to maintain a six-foot social distance requirement.   Assistant county counselor Justin Waggoner said retail businesses are not considered mass gatherings, but they would have to stay within 50 percent of fire code capacity.

Bars and restaurants will be allowed to stay open until 11 p.m. and they can operate with 100 patrons or 50 percent of the fire code capacity, whichever is less.   The businesses can continue carryout and curbside services past midnight.

Restaurants can seat parties of no more than eight people, and tables will have to be at least six feet apart.

Large venues of 2,000 people or more will have to have approval from the health officer, Dr. Garold Minns, in order to host events.

The measures are being taken to deal with increasing cases of COVID-19 in the community.  County manager Tom Stolz said the Wichita hospitals are reporting 178 patients with COVID-19, and 80 patients in the intensive care units.   Stolz said hospital officials said this week that in the last three weeks, there seems to be a doubling of hospital patients every two weeks.   Stolz said if this trajectory continues, there could be patient numbers in the 300s in a couple of weeks.

Dr. Minns told commissioners it’s difficult to pin down the exact cause of the increase in COVID-19 cases, but the increases are not limited to Sedgwick County.  He said compliance with the previous order has not been the best, and people have been going to social events without masks or distancing.   He said the county needs to look at ways to encourage more compliance and convince people of the importance of wearing masks and following social distancing.

The order goes into effect at midnight Wednesday, November 11th and will remain in effect through midnight, December 31st.

Commissioners also approved a resolution that allows the county to enforce the health order in the unincorporated areas of the county.   The order would be enforced through the county court system with fines of up to 500 dollars.   The county will work with cities and towns to help them understand the process of enforcement.  The resolution was approved with a 3-2 vote.  Commissioners Jim Howell and Michael O’Donnell voted no.