Crowd size limits increased, Newton schools returning to buildings

Chad Frey
The Kansan

Lynnette Redington, director of the Harvey County Health Department, had good news for the county commission Tuesday — many of the county COVID-19 indicators were trending downward. 

"Today I am smiling just a little under the mask because we have better numbers than we have had," Redington said. 

To date, 26,814 tests have been completed, on 13,133 individulals. There are currently five people in the hospital, a number Redington called "stable."

Currently there are 70 active cases in the county — a number that Redington called "fantastic" after case loads in the hundreds for weeks. 

"With decreasing cases we are seeing a reduction in stress on our system overall," Redington said.

There have been 47 deaths, with nine more confirmed in the last week, namely from waiting for confirmation of death certificates. That category remains in the red on the county COVID-19 dashboard. 

Virus spread has dropped to 93 per 100,000 from 693 one month ago. The percent of positive tests has dropped to 5.42% — dropping from 6% a week ago. 

The county health officer recommended Tuesday to increase mass gathering limits to 50 people, up from 10 people, The commission voted 3-0 to approved the order. The order will be in place until rescinded by the commission. 

The move allowed the county to reopen park buildings and reopen county commission meetings for public attendance. 

The commission did not change mask usage requirements. 

"The vaccine has not limited community spread of the virus," Redington said. "We don't have enough of it out there."

"With the UK variant ... it seems like it is more important to wear masks," said Commissioner Don Schroeder. "With the mass gathering limit, we may have to go back to something more strict."

"Our goal is to keep schools open and have summer events. The trade-off is hygiene now and wearing your mask," added Commissioner Chip Westfall.

To that end, about 12 hours before the commission met, Newton USD 373 discussed modes of operation and voted to return to in-school instruction for all flexible-plan students starting March 1.

In other business, the county commission: 

• Discussed upcoming changes to flood plain maps. 

• Opened proposals a for a roof top air conditioning unit replacement for Harvey County Detention Center. The proposals will be reviewed by staff. 

• Open proposals a for a re-engineered steel awning at Solid Waste Harvey County Solid Waste Awning. 

• Open a proposal for removing the Recycle Sorting System at Solid Waste Harvey County Solid Waste.

• Received a presentation and ACIP Annual Reports for the Newton City/County Airport.

• Reviewed Harvey County's SPARK Phase 1 CARES Act funding expense report and change memo.