June 14, 2021
Lawrence, US 69 F
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Douglas County Commission approves public health order that keeps mask mandate, loosens gathering limits

Updated at 10:27 a.m. Thursday, April 15:

The Douglas County Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to approve an update to the public health order in response to COVID-19.

The order continues the mask mandate, removes the current mass gathering limit of 50, and continues ordering public spaces to maintain 50% capacity and social-distancing practices. 

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The order also gives business owners the option to opt out of capacity restrictions, instead requiring the establishment to adequately display to the public that they have opted out of the order and give a written notice to the health department of their decision. 

Although the commissioners voted unanimously, several residents in attendance spoke in opposition when the floor was opened for public comment. Many residents cited mental health burdens, which some said have been brought on by the mask mandate, as primary reasons the commission should remove the mandate.

However, Nate Morsches, co-founder of RPG and healthcare worker, said he believes social isolation because of COVID is contributing to an increase mental illness.

“I can tell you from my direct experience that COVID is not the only major problem that our healthcare systems face at this time. Another major problem is mental health,” Morsches said. “From day to day, my ER sees approximately triple the amount of mental health patients than it did even three months ago.”

Though there were many attendees in opposition, there were also residents in favor of the public health order, calling for consideration of various upcoming KU events.

“Every single weekend until the end of May, we have huge numbers of people traveling in from other locations,” said Emily Peterson, owner of Merchants Pub & Plate. “We certainly don’t know what the health of that traveling community is and how that impacts our local health.”

The commission plans to revisit various details, such as the end date of the order and the requirements pertaining to businesses choosing to opt out of occupancy limits. 

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