Sedgwick County health officer suggests masks, 50% business capacity, limited travel to slow COVID-19

Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 10:58 AM CDT
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The top health official in Sedgwick County made recommendations Wednesday morning to commissioners on ways to get COVID-19 numbers back under control.

Dr. Garold Minns gave the county commission three suggestions he said could be done without greatly impacting the economy - limiting travel, limiting business capacity and requiring masks.

Dr. Minns said travel should be limited, specifically from allowing large groups of people from out of town coming into the state, mainly for sporting activities.

"Those people are coming from all over the United States. As you know many states are hot spots now and we have no way of screening those people. I think, for the time being, it would be best if we suspended all those types of visits here to Kansas, to Wichita," said Dr. Minns.

Dr. Minns also said now would be a good time to revisit an order on limiting restaurant and retail capacity to 50%. He said this recommendation comes directly from the industry leaders.

"As I might remind people, we had a meeting with the various business entities in the county, quite a while ago, and actually those representing the restaurant industry are the ones who came in and suggested that the restaurant industry recommendations were, until this virus was under control, to limiting occupancy to 50-percent of the fire code capacity," said Dr. Minns.

When it comes to masks, he acknowledged that they have become controversial and mixed messages was given early on about wearing them. He said a mask may not be 100% effective, but it does reduce person-to-person transmission.

"We have so many fewer tools to prevent transmission and it shouldn't have any significant economic impact to either mandate or at least highly encourage the public to wear masks when they're outside their homes - universally," said Dr. Minns.

Gov. Laura Kelly announced on Monday she would issue an executive order mandating every Kansan wear a mask in public indoor spaces and outdoors when and where social distancing cannot be maintained. She is expected to release more details on the order Thursday. It would take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, July 3.

Dr. Minns said if something were to happen to the order or it was rescinded, similar to the governor's phased-in approach to reopening the state, Sedgwick County should have a plan in place.

"The virus is back up in numbers. Healthcare professionals are worried about the direction of that. They are asking what we're going to do or consider doing to try and get the numbers back under control without doing any significant harm to the economy," said.

When asked what kind of timeline he thought should be applied to the county's order, he said he doesn't see the virus going away any time soon unless a better treatment or vaccine is available.

“I think we’re going to have to continue some societal behavioral activities, whether it’s masks, whether it’s six-foot distancing, whether it’s 50% capacity. I think that may have to become the norm until this thing is under control. Because we see what happens when we relax them, it’s still out there, most of us are not immune. It comes right back,” said Dr. Minns.