Proposed new Douglas County health order would let businesses opt out of occupancy restrictions

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The future of Douglas County’s COVID-19 public health restrictions will be put to a vote at Wednesday’s county commission meeting, officials announced Tuesday. 

A mask mandate will still be in place as part of a proposed update to the county’s public health ordinances, but mass gathering limits would expand from 50 people to 50% of a building’s capacity. Notably, businesses and venues would also be allowed to opt out of the county’s occupancy restrictions if they notify Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health in writing and post a sign in their respective entryways. 

The change in county protocols is attributed to a bill recently signed into law by Gov. Laura Kelly which revamped the Kansas Emergency Management Act by limiting some of the governor’s powers during a declared state of emergency and allowing municipalities more control in deciding whether to comply with state orders. 

 “As Douglas County has done well overall during the pandemic, our public health strategy going forward continues to rely on the efficacy of mask wearing and social distancing. We continue to ask our community members to do their part to keep the disease spread manageable and to protect those most vulnerable,” LDCPH Director Dan Partridge said in a statement. “As we have seen in recent weeks, even with a strong vaccination effort to date locally, it is important to utilize community mitigation strategies to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in light of seeing continued new cases and new variants, which may be more transmissible.”

Douglas County Health Officer Dr. Thomas Marcellino and Deputy Local Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher — who is also an infectious disease specialist at LMH Health — will present the proposed order to Douglas County Commissioners as part of their 5:30 p.m. business meeting Wednesday. 

Here’s what the order includes:

  • An indoor capacity limit of 50% of the lowest occupancy load on the certificate of occupancy of the facility where the gathering is occurring. This applies to entertainment venues, recreational facilities, restaurants, bars and other businesses serving food and/or drink indoors.
  • Venues may opt out of this occupancy limitation if they provide written notice to Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health and posting at sign at their front entrance.
  • The social distancing requirement must be adhered to at all times both inside the venue and any activity taking place outside the venue, including in line to enter an indoor public space.
  • A requirement for all people older than 5 to wear masks in all indoor public spaces — except when eating, drinking, swimming or if they have a medical condition that prevents it — and outdoor public spaces where they are unable to maintain 6 feet of social distance.

“As we continue to loosen the restrictions on gathering limits, we still ask the public to remain vigilant when it comes to mask wearing, social distancing and washing hands frequently,” Marcellino said in a statement. “It is critical we not let our guards down.”

The April 14 Douglas County Commission meeting can be streamed virtually here via Zoom.

Find the full meeting agenda for the commission’s 4 p.m. work session and 5:30 p.m. regular meeting here.

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