PITTSBURG — Gov. Laura Kelly's emergency declaration that was in effect through April expires Friday, but will be replaced by a new declaration along with a framework for allowing authority for further coronavirus restrictions to revert to the county level and businesses to reopen, which Kelly was expected to formally announce late Thursday.
“It is clear the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Kansas are going to last for the foreseeable future,” Kelly said in a press release issued late Wednesday. “This new declaration will allow my administration to keep intact important state emergency measures and enable essential federal support to continue.”
The new declaration will be in effect through May 14, at which point the State Finance Council could extend it for 30 additional days, according to the release. Further extensions must be approved by concurrent resolution of the Kansas Legislature.
Some of the major restrictions included in Kelly's previous orders, however, including the statewide stay-home requirement and limitation of “mass gatherings” to 10 people or less, were set to expire at 11:59 p.m. on May 3, according to information released Wednesday.
At the local level, area businesses and local government officials have been among those making plans for reopening. On Thursday, Pittsburg State University Chief Strategy Officer Shawn Naccarato hosted a “town hall” event with Crawford County Health Officer Rebecca Adamson on PSU-affiliated radio station KRPS to discuss the county's new, less restrictive guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while allowing most businesses to reopen, which were expected to be finalized Friday.
The development of the county's draft plan has been “based on evidence and recommendations from experts in the field on how to go about reopening in the safest way possible while still maximizing our economic abilities in our communities,” Adamson said, adding that “depending on what the governor puts out, these orders and plans could definitely change, it's all going to have to remain flexible.”
The county's draft plan is divided into four phases, including “Phase 1,” which is the current situation as it has existed for the past several weeks under Gov. Kelly's stay-at-home order. Phase 2, which would allow most businesses to reopen under certain conditions, was expected as of Thursday to begin May 4, and the plan would move into its later phases after periods of two weeks in each phase, at a minimum.
“And that comes down to the fact that the incubation period for the COVID-19 virus is 14 days,” Adamson said, “so by using the 14-day period we're able to kind of assess how each phase is going.”
While there will likely be some additional coronavirus cases as people begin leaving their homes and going to businesses more often, it is hoped that continued efforts to maintain social distancing and refrain from gathering in large groups will keep the situation manageable.
“The other thing that we would be watching is if the number of cases that we get would be taxing our healthcare system,” Adamson said. “That could be at the state level or a county level.”
If severe cases began taxing the county-level healthcare system and it was struggling to care for patients, or if there was a rise in coronavirus deaths, that could lead to tighter restrictions being put back in place. So far there has been one coronavirus death in Crawford County, and as of April 25, when the county health department issued its latest coronavirus press release, the county had confirmed five positive and two presumptive positive COVID-19 cases, with five of the seven recovering to a point where they no longer had to remain in isolation.
The county's draft plan, which can be read in full and downloaded at the county website, www.crawfordcountykansas.org, includes guidelines for businesses including restaurants and bars, retail, personal services such as salons and barber shops, and gyms, among others, as well as for libraries, assisted living facilities, religious services and sports activities.
While the county plans to continue limiting gatherings to 10 people or less, this applies to planned or spontaneous events rather than the number of people who can be in, for example, a store or restaurant, as long as the store or restaurant can ensure compliance with social distancing.
If state-level orders do not prevent the county's plans from moving forward, “in-restaurant dining would be allowed in restaurants and bars,” Adamson said. “It would be similar to the first order that came out — spacing the tables six feet apart, and you know, the different restaurants and establishments will have to evaluate how many people they can have in there depending on the size of the restaurant.”
Businesses can implement their own stricter coronavirus policies than what the county will be requiring, Adamson noted.
For retail businesses that will be reopening, “the main thing is to keep customers six feet apart if at all possible, keeping an eye out to see if your store is reaching capacity, you know, if people are getting too close together and it's just getting too full, you may have to go to a 1-out-1-in basis to kind of regulate the flow of traffic in the store,” Adamson said.
Other important guidelines for restaurants include maintaining sanitary conditions through enhanced cleaning efforts.
At businesses that offer personal services, such as salons or barber shops, both employees and customers will be required to wear facemasks. Wearing facemasks is also encouraged for all businesses and workplaces, though Adamson noted they are more important in businesses where people are necessarily working in closer proximity.
Religious gatherings — a source of controversy throughout Kansas and beyond during the coronavirus crisis — are also addressed in the county's draft plan.
Based on the most recent information she has received, “I do think that that is going to turn more towards a six-foot distancing requirement,” Adamson said Thursday. “So it would depend on the size of the facility that churches have or religious facilities have, as long as people can remain six feet apart.”
Religious gatherings have been more of a concern than, for example, large “essential” stores that have remained open, Adamson said, because people tend to be in close proximity when they congregate for religious gatherings. “And that's wonderful, I mean I love going to my church and doing all of those things and I miss it greatly,” she said.
Some sports activities may also soon be able to resume.
“Our hope would be that we could get back to some team sports in groups of ten or less, where coaches would be able to ask players, you know, 'Have you had a fever? Have you had any of the symptoms?' They can ask the parents if it's young kids,” Adamson said. “Of course the issue that's going to come down is, can you keep kids six feet apart while playing a sport?”
Adamson noted that people can call the Crawford County Health Department for answers to their questions about the latest coronavirus rules and regulations.