GIRARD — In response to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the Crawford County Commission approved an order Tuesday restricting gatherings of more than 10 people and imposing restrictions on businesses — including in some cases ordering businesses to close entirely, although officials have also said they are open to businesses presenting them with plans for changes to their operations that might allow them to reopen.
At another commission meeting the previous day, Commissioner Jeremy Johnson asked whether a Crawford County Board of Health order, if approved by the county commission, would be legally enforceable or simply a set of voluntary guidelines.
“It’s very difficult to even police certain things,” said County Health Officer Rebecca Adamson, giving the example of Gov. Laura Kelly’s order to limit gatherings to 50 people or less, which has since been reduced to 10 or less.
“Do you have enough manpower to go to every establishment in Crawford County, not just in one town, to make sure there’s less than 50 people? Probably not. We don’t have manpower to do that. I will tell you we get lots of reports from people, and they’re going to report it to the health department if it’s happening. I feel strongly that it will get reported. We’ve had reports that we’ve had to take some action on already,” Adamson said.
“Well, right, no, it will be complaint-driven, since we don’t have an army of people to send out,” Johnson said.
County Counselor Jim Emerson also clarified at the Monday meeting, however, that state law includes enforcement provisions for county board of health orders.
“We can go after — there’s criminal penalties for violations of any local board of health, health officer order, or fines, either/or,” Emerson said.
“It will just be up to hopefully the local police chiefs in some of the cities, police departments, and our sheriff’s department to work together on those,” he added.
Sheriff Danny Smith, who was also at the Monday meeting, said in addition to restrictions on businesses, law enforcement officers can also enforce compliance with quarantine orders for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who have otherwise been ordered to self-quarantine by the health department. He agreed with others at the meeting that enforcement of health department orders would be complaint-driven.
“Hopefully if we get involved we’ll get some compliance there,” Smith said.
The sheriff’s department would be hesitant at this point to jail people over something like violating a self-quarantine order, he said, but there are enforcement actions it could take.
“I hope people are going to comply with that and I really think they will, except this is all new to us,” Smith said, adding that he was curious to see how enforcement works in the Kansas City area as stay-at-home orders and other restrictions on public activities and businesses begin to take effect.
The Kansas Sheriffs’ Association and National Sheriffs’ Association have already been looking to other states and areas where enforcement of coronavirus restrictions have been in place longer, Smith said.
“So a lot of those things are starting to trickle down to us,” Smith said, “but we’re actually learning some lessons before it becomes a problem.”