Plans for reopening in hands of individual Kansas counties

Published: May. 26, 2020 at 9:50 PM CDT
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each Kansas county now has clearance to set its own guidelines when it comes to plans for reopening businesses and placing restrictions to safeguard against COVID-19.

The local decisions follow Kelly's announcement that she would veto a House bill related to the state's COVID-19 response, limiting the governor's executive power when it comes to emergencies. This ended the state's executive order concerning Kelly's phased reopening plan as of 11:59 p.m. Tuesday. It's this decision that. moving forward, passes restrictions and guidelines with reopening businesses on to the county level.

In Ellis County, the health department and board of health decided Wednesday it's best option is to reopen without any official restrictions. The county is approaching 40 days since its last confirmed COVID-19 case.

"Ellis County has done its part. We were able to move to the phased out, basically portion, which allowed us to move forward without restrictions at this point," Ellis County Health Director Jason Kennedy says.

Ellis County commissioners say they've been lucky to have minimal case numbers with no hospitalizations or deaths due to COVID-19. They say they've been ready to reopen for awhile.

"A one-size-fits-all approach just didn't seem like the right way to handle this from the beginning for us" Ellis County Commissioner Dustin Roths says.

Alex Munsch who owns a fitness center in Ellis County says he was excited when he heard reopening decisions were shifting from state to county control.

"It was pretty exciting. I was like, 'you know, let's do this.' Let's you know, take the extra precautions, do whatever necessary, but let's get back, open it back up and get the community back up and rolling because at the end of the day, everyone was just sick of it," Munsch says.

Kennedy says this doesn't mean Ellis County residents should stop taking precautions.

"Just because we don't have restrictions in place doesn't mean that we don't take those basic health measures that allow us to keep our selves and others around us safe," he says.

Barton, Ford and Butler counties are also among Kansas counties not setting local restrictions. Generally, counties no implementing restrictions do recommend following state and federal guidelines.

While Ford County has the most COVID-19 cases in the state, county leaders aren't issuing orders, saying businesses should determine what best fits.

Ford County's cases largely are connected with clusters connected with meat processing facilities.

Tuesday night, Harvey County was among the first Kansas counties to take action following the governor's decision. Harvey County announced for at least one more week (through June 2), it will will implement guidelines consistent with Phase 2 of Kelly's guidelines for reopening, but commissioners did agree to increase mass gathering limits in the county from 15 to 30.

The Harvey County Commission in a special meeting Tuesday night (May 26) voted to remain in the second phase of its local reopening plan.

The Harvey County Health Reopening Plan "generally follows the guidance included in Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly's 'Ad Astra: A Plan to Reopen Kansas' outline," the county says.

In its recommendation, commissioners Tuesday night also agreed to increase mass gathering limits from 15 (outlined in the governor's modified Phase Two plan) to 30 people.

Otherwise, Harvey County says, "all restrictions previously outlined in the state's reopening plan remain in place in Harvey County's local plan."

With the state's guidelines in a modified Phase Two, businesses including bowling alleys, theaters, arcades, trampoline parks, museums and others deemed "indoor-leisure" can reopen, as long as they follow guidelines from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Bars and nightclubs remain closed, as do public swimming pools.

Harvey County says its plan restricts in-person visits at long-term care facilities through its first three phases.

The county says commissioners its public health officer anticipate re-evaluating the local order at the commission's June 2 meeting. it's at this meeting where county leaders likely will make a decision whether to move on to the next phase in its local plan.

Taking similar action Wednesday, Saline County issued a local health order that will make Phase Two of the governor's Ad Astra reopening plan a local order through June 8.