County extends reopening plan, mask order

Chad Frey
The Kansan

County health orders — namely the COVID-19 reopening plan and a county mask order — were set to expire this week.

Both were on the agenda at Tuesday’s meeting of the Harvey County Commission.

The Harvey County Health Department recommended extending both orders one month, rather than letting them expire.

Both extensions passed on 3-0 votes.

“I am leery of reopening schools without a mask ordinance in place,” said Commissioner Chip Westfall.

One person spoke in opposition to the mask order during public comment, that was counter-balanced by a statement by Val Gleason, president and CEO of Newton Medical Center.

“In the last two weeks I have seen more people wearing a mask,” Westfall said. “Doctors, nurses, they have worn masks for centuries ... they must work.”

However, members of he commission did question the effectiveness of the order based on new case statistics.

“I wish I was seeing some numbers that warranted it, but then again, where would we be without this order?” Hague said.

The current caseloads are showing about 10 to 14 new cases every two days — a level the county has been at for about a month. The commission passed a mask order July 14.

The order suggests businesses require employees to wear a mask in any space visited by customers or members of the public; any space where food is prepared or packaged for sale or distribution; where customers, members, visitors or members of the public are in a facility managed by the business; or employees are in any room or enclosed area where social distancing is not possible or infrequent.

Hague told the commission he sees a number of businesses in the area that have not enforced the order — allowing customers to enter their business without a facial covering and not asking that customer to put one on.

“There are still businesses out there that refuse to enforce this,” Hague said. “I ask why they do not, and they say, ’With the way things are today I am afraid someone will pull a gun out and shoot me.’ ”

On a motion by Westfall that was seconded by Ron Krehbiel, the commission chose to extend the order through Sept. 15.

The commission also kept the county reopening plan in place and at the phase-out stage. The commission was faced with the choice of keeping the plan in place, moving back to Phase 3 of the plan or allowing it to expire completely.

“The issue of mass gatherings is really the only change we make moving to phase III. We recommend that we stay in phase out,“ said Lynnette Redington, director of the Harvey County Health Department.

The commission moved to the phase-out stage on June 10. It was set to expire this week.

“Just in case we have a major outbreak in a nursing home or a school, we need to have this in place,” Hague said.

Keeping the plan in place would allow the county to quickly move back to phase III if needed. The orders can always be rescinded or replaced by the board of health, which is the county commission.

“We do not know what is going to come out of the school reopenings,” Westfall said. “There are a lot of variables but I think we need to have an order in place in case there is a disaster with the virus.”

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