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County health officials declare state of emergency

Staff writer

The county health department issued an emergency public health order Monday that upends business as usual in Marion County.

Emergency manager Randy Frank and county health nurse Diedre Serene broke the news to county commissioners Monday that the emergency operations center has declared a state of emergency for the county.

The order, which expires April 7:

  • Prohibits public gatherings of more than 10 people indoor or outdoor except for government, judicial, and industries defined as essential by the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Allows churches, religious services, funerals and memorial services to permit more than 10 people if they ensure social distancing of at least 6 feet between people who do not live together.
  • Permits restaurants to provide carryout, drive-through, and delivery food and beverages, but closes dining facilities, bars, taverns, clubs, auditoriums, bowling alleys, fitness centers, swimming pools, and any public gathering locations in the county.

Homeland Security lists government offices, grocery stores, gas stations, communication agencies, medical providers, news agencies, and others as essential industries.

Serene told commissioners if people have traveled to a state or county with a COVID-19 travel ban, they are required to quarantine for two weeks.

“We are recommending that they take this seriously to protect the people who are at risk,” Serene said.

She said she encourages students to respect school closures and avoid gathering in public to limit exposure.

“To clarify for some of those rumors going on — no, we are not having martial law,” emergency manager Randy Frank said.

The National Guard has been deployed in hard-hit states to help deliver medical supplies.

Commission chairman Jonah Gehring asked if the health department is banning travel to the Kansas City area.

Serene said she asks employers to discourage people from traveling to Johnson and Wyandotte counties, where the largest number of confirmed cases have occurred. If someone has already traveled there, they should self-quarantine, she said.

The state on Monday also mandated a 14-day quarantine for anyone who traveled to Florida, New York and Washington on or after March 15; Illinois or New Jersey on or after March 23; Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Gunnison counties in Colorado during the week of March 8; traveled on a cruise ship or internationally after March 15; or been notified by health officials that they were in close contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19.

Commissioner David Crofoot asked if the virus can live on parcels that have been shipped. Most United Parcel Service deliveries come through Johnson County, Crofoot said.

Frank answered that although the virus can live on cardboard for a long period of time, the chance of getting it from a package is low. He suggested people wash their hands and sanitize any surface the box touched after delivery.

The health department’s guidelines for county residents are to avoid social gatherings with more than 10 people; use drive-through, pickup, or delivery for restaurants; avoid discretionary travel for shopping trips and social visits; not to visit nursing homes, retirement, or long-term care facilities except to provide critical assistance; and practice good hygiene.

Sheriff Rob Craft said state law gives local law enforcement authority to enforce medical quarantine orders once a state of emergency has been declared by health authorities, including the county health department.

Enforcement could lead to an arrest if officers felt it was necessary.

“We hope to be able to communicate to people that it is serious, and we hope people would comply voluntarily so we wouldn’t have to get involved,” Craft said.

Gov. Laura Kelly issued a new executive order Tuesday that likewise limited mass gatherings to 10 people.

According to a press release from the governor’s office, Kansas Department of Health and Environment projects Kansas will have between 300 and 900 new confirmed COVID-19 cases.

“This is an escalating crisis, and we must make sacrifices and adjustments to ensure the safety of our neighbors,” Kelly said. “We all need to do what we can to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

Last modified March 26, 2020

 

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