Sedgwick County bans large gatherings

By Travis Mounts
Times-Sentinel Newspapers

On Friday, Sedgwick County issued a ban on gatherings of 250 people or more across Sedgwick County, including Wichita.

The announcement came late morning on Friday, March 13. It comes on the heels of news that a patient at Wesley Medical Center has tested as a presumptive positive for COVID-19. The man, who is in his 70s and from Butler County, had traveled outside of the United States. Authorities said no Sedgwick County residents have tested positive.

Groups and organizations were scrambling Friday as the ban took effect. There was no word on how long the ban would be in effect. Locally, the Clearwater Art Walk announced that its sixth annual event was being postponed.

“Please know that we will do our best to reschedule as soon as we can. Stay safe and keep creating,” organizers said in a statement. The event is sponsored by the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce.

Also Friday, the Sumner-Cowley Electric Cooperative made the decision to postpone its annual meeting, which was scheduled for Saturday, March 14, at Wellington High School.

“As fears rise over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, we felt this decision was in the best interest of our cooperative and the communities we serve,” the cooperative said in a statement provided by Jared McIntire. “We are making efforts to contact all those who have made reservations for the annual meeting. This includes all members, guests, scholarship recipients and Youth Tour and Leadership Camp winners. We will make an announcement to our members once we have finalized plans for a rescheduled annual meeting”

The ban also means that Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in Wichita’s Delano district is cancelled, as are church services across the county if they attract more than 250 people.

The Wichita Symphony Orchestra was cancelling its weekend shows, and the Kansas Press Association’s spelling bee was postponed.

Businesses remain open, including grocery stores. The Cheney Recreation Commission released a statement that its activities would go forward as planned, but that those plans could change as the situation continues to change rapidly.

On Thursday, Gov. Laura Kelly confirmed the first coronavirus death. A man in his 70s, living in a long-term care facility in Wyandotte County, passed away. He was not among the cases that health officials were aware of. Four cases have been confirmed in Johnson County. Both Johnson and Wyandotte counties are in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Lee Norman said officials believe that he was infected by someone who came into the about 80-bed long-term care facility, which would mean it’s the first confirmed case of local transmission. That means the virus is circulating in the community.

“It’s going to be what we would consider a classic public health contact tracing to do the detective work to find out where this came from,” Norman said.

Relatively few COVID-19 cases have been identified in Kansas compared with other states. Norman said officials were not “overly surprised” by the death.

“We’ve had nearly daily conversations and we’ve talked for a while now about what will be the new normal in terms of coronavirus,” he said, “both globally in the United States and here in Kansas.”

Norman also said that the state’s lab is still doing about 15 tests per day, adding “we don’t expect any shortage of testing materials.”

The head of the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services, Laura Howard, stressed that the man who died was among the part of the population most vulnerable to the virus: older and immunocompromised people. She said the state is planning to add to federal guidance about visitors and entry protocols to care facilities, and reminded the public to “honor those restrictions.”

Editor’s note: This story includes information from the Kansas News Service.