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Harvey County moves to limit mass gatherings

Chad Frey
cfrey@thekansan.com
The Kansan

It’s not what the county commission wanted to discuss two days before Thanksgiving and a month before Christmas, two holidays that traditionally lead to large family gatherings and some large events.

But discuss limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer people they did, at the request of the county health officer, the Harvey County Health Department and the Harvey County COVID-19 Task Force.

“The next step after this is to shut things down,” said Commissioner Randy Hague. “This is not going to change until people start taking this seriously.”

The commission discussed the guidelines in Sedgwick County, which set a limit of how many total people can be in any venue. The proposal put in front of the commission Tuesday set a limit to groups — 10 people — but not the total number of people that can be in a venue.

And while the commissioners did not want to vote for the action, they did. New group size guidelines are now in effect through Jan. 5.

The recommendation is that there be no more than 10 individuals in a gathering where 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained. This does not limit the total occupancy allowed in a facility or event if 6 feet of social distance is maintained at all times.

Facial covering guidelines — approved Oct. 19 requiring a face mask to be worn countywide in public spaces where 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained between individuals at all times — are unchanged.

The commission voted 2-0, with Commissioner Ron Krehbiel absent, in favor of the new crowd size guidelines.

The commission previously took action to move the county back to Phase 3 of its COVID-19 reopening plan on Nov. 10. That move limited groups to 45 people. The commission also canceled Trapper’s Rendezvous, a traditional camping event at West Park in January, despite changes to the event to try to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Those actions, however, did not prevent the COVID-19 dashboard at HarveyCounty.com showing three of six gating criteria in the red category, including virus spread, tracking/tracing and hospitals.

As of Tuesday, 8,634 individuals had been tested for the coronavirus while 1,272 cases have been found in the county since the pandemic began. There were 327 active cases in the county as of Tuesday.

According to the heath department, the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kansas Department of Health and Environment are stating that current mitigation efforts are inadequate and must be increased to flatten the curve to sustain the health system for COVID-19 emergencies. Reno County and McPherson County have taken the step to limit mass gatherings to 10 and 15 people, respectively.

The new guidelines for employers include following “sector-specific guidance or mandates provided by business licensors;” considering telework where applicable; consider alternate work schedules; requesting employees with symptoms to stay home; and maintaining 6 feet of distance between work stations.

The recommendation does not close any business or entertainment venue, though it does stress the necessity of social distancing.

On Tuesday, the commission also approved temporary positions for the health department to work on such COVID-19 issues as contact tracing and disease investigation. The positions are grant-funded through CARES Act funds. Three full-time case investigators and three half-time contact tracers were approved.

In other business, the commission:

• Received an update on the status of the driver’s license office, where appointments are being booked in January.

• Discussed courthouse operations and if departments can be changed to appointment only.

• Received an update on the Governor’s Council on Tax Reform Update.

• Approved a bid of more than $16,000 from Koehn Paint to paint two hangars at the Newton City/County Airport.

• Discussed a draft lease agreement with the Harvey County Radio Control Club.