County lowers threshold for public gatherings; governor recommends schools close

UPDATED 3:30 p.m. Monday, March 16

 

Sedgwick County declared a state of local disaster emergency effective Monday, March 16. As part of that midday announcement, the county is now prohibiting all public gatherings of more than 50 people. This ban is in effect until further notice.

In a Facebook post, the county stated: “The state of local disaster emergency was activated because of an imminent threat from contagious disease. The declaration gives County government the flexibility to manage operations in a rapidly changing environment, and will make Federal and State assistance available. The County’s Local Emergency Operations Plan has also been activated, allowing for collaboration between public safety organizations, local health officials, and other community stakeholders.”

The statement noted that the new restriction is in accordance with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and general best practices. Sedgwick County’s ban follows a similar ban enacted this weekend for Kansas City, Kan. Bans of gatherings of 50 or more people have enacted statewide for Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.

As of noon Monday, the Haysville Activity Center has closed indefinitely. An online statement from the HAC stated: “City staff is closely monitoring the current situation regarding Covid-19 and we will keep you updated as circumstances change/arise through the City’s website and on our Facebook page. Thank you for your understanding; we apologize for any inconvenience. Please be safe and look out for one another.”

Other organizations are beginning to make changes, as well. On Monday, Goddard City Hall announced it was not open to walk-in traffic. Employees are present and working, but Goddard citizens are asked to conduct all business by phone or online. Monday night’s city council meeting will go on as planned, but people are being urged to watch a live feed of the meeting on the city’s Facebook page. Brian Silcott, Goddard’s city manager, said in an email that further updates will be posted on the city’s social media and online at www.goddardks.gov.

The City of Cheney noted that City Hall is remaining open, but is encouraging utility customers to use the outside dropbox for payment to limit exposure employees. Online payments may be made at www.cheneyks.org. Burn permits are available at the website, too.

For now, the Cheney Senior Center is stiller serving noon Friendship Meals. Cherry Oaks, the city-owned golf course, remains open but is taking additional precautions to limit exposure.

The Conway Springs Chamber of Commerce has postponed Thursday’s community work day that was scheduled with USD 356 students. The Chamber still plans to meet at noon Thursday at Gambino’s Pizza, and as of 1:30 p.m. Monday plans were still on for Thursday evening’s work on Easter eggs for the community Easter egg hunt.

On Monday afternoon, Sedgwick County Extension announced it was temporarily closing to the public, effective at 2 p.m.

All Sedgwick County Extension Education Center events have been moved to an alternate format, canceled or suspended. For updated events information, go to www.sedgwick.k-state.edu/covid-19.html.

“We feel it is our responsibility, as a research-based organization, to take this situation seriously, practice social distancing and do what we can to help mitigate the spread and impact of COVID-19 on those who are most vulnerable,” Brantley said.

Times-Sentinel Newspapers will continue to post information as it comes in, as well.

As of midday Monday, the state was reporting a total of 11 cases of COVID-19, which causes novel coronavirus. Eight of those cases were in Johnson County, with one in Franklin County and a reported death in Wyandotte County. A Butler County man also was diagnosed, the only case in the state so far not in the northeast part of the state around the Kansas City metro area.

On Monday afternoon, President Donald Trump said that over the next 15 days, Americans should avoid gathering in groups of more than 10; avoid bars, restaurants and food courts; and not travel, if possible. These are recommendations, and not mandates. Various locations around the country have enacted different guidelines, based on the severity of their outbreaks and other factors.

Guidelines and daily updates from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment may be fouind at www.kdheks.gov/coronavirus/index.htm. You may call KDHE toll-free at 1-866-534-3463.

 

Governor recommends closing schools

 

By Travis Mounts
Times-Sentinel Newspapers

On Sunday night, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly recommended that all schools close for the upcoming week. The state has confirmed eight cases of novel coronavirus, which is caused by COVID-19. One person has died. Most of the cases have been in the Kansas City area, although one Butler County resident was treated at a Wichita hospital. It was reported that he had recently traveled overseas.

“We take this pandemic and our preparations very seriously,” Kelly said during a Sunday evening news conference. She noted that her office has been working closely with Kansas State Department of Education and with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Kelly said that the state is recommending that all public schools close for the upcoming week, recognizing that many are on spring break. She said that the recommendation is to help ensure that schools are able to meet the COVID-19 challenge, and “so that when classes do resume, they (students) will receive the same quality, world-class education” that people are used to.

All five schools in The Times-Sentinel/Haysville Sun-Times coverage area – Cheney, Clearwater, Goddard, Haysville and Renwick – are on spring break this week.

In Sumner County, Conway Springs superintendent Clay Murphy said that USD 356 is following that recommendation. All activities and classes are cancelled. Spring break for Conway Springs was set to begin on Friday, March 20. Students will now be out of school for a two-week period.

Argonia USD 359 students were scheduled to return to class on Monday, but late Sunday evening the district made the decision to call off classes this week, following the recommendation of the Department of Education. Students in Argonia were on spring break last week, and the facilities underwent deep cleaning while students were away.

At the end of last week, the Haysville, Cheney and Conway Springs districts announced that all activities would be suspended during spring break. For music students in Conway Springs, that means that the once-every-four-years band and vocal music trip to Florida is cancelled, as is the preview concert that was planned for this Monday evening.

Murphy told the Star-Argosy on Sunday evening that the Kansas State High School Activities Association has ordered all athletic practices and events scheduled for the upcoming week to be cancelled.

Last Thursday, KSHSAA made the decision to call off the final two rounds of State basketball, which were supposed to be played Friday and Saturday at six different sites. The undefeated Campus boys, the Cheney girls, and the Garden Plain girls and boys all won first-round games to advance to the final four of their respective classes, and would have played both Friday and Saturday.

The loss of the chance to play was a different kind of heartbreak than a first-round loss, which would have ended the teams’ seasons.

“KSHSAA really fought for us to have these basketball games,” said Josh Godwin, assistant principal and athletic director for Haysville Public Schools. “They were fighting all the way up to the end.”

That effort included trying to find alternative sites, as most of the host sites were at colleges that have shut down all activities.

Kelly called the coronavirus “an precedented challenge to our state.”

She said the state recognizes that any closure of schools brings a number of difficulties, including how to provide meals to students who rely on their schools for them. Childcare is another issue.

Haysville has one of 18 locations for Sedgwick County’s “Filling the Gap” lunches, and those sites will be providing lunches to students who need them, as schools on spring break won’t be providing lunches. In Haysville, lunches can be had at Haysville United Methodist Church, 601 E. Grand. Meals are prepackaged and can be taken to go. The program is hosted by Partners for Wichita, Inc. Additional information is available at www.partnersforwichita.org.

Kelly was asked why the state was giving a recommendation to schools to shut down rather than ordering them to do so.

“We are really trying to take a Kansas approach to this, a risk-based strategic plan,” she said, explaining the decision to make it a local decision. “They’re local and they know what their issues are.”

Kelley said she doesn’t feel it is necessary at this time to shutter schools for the rest of the semester. The state board of education is forming a team of experts to work this week on a comprehensive plan. Topics to be covered will include how to move education online if necessary; how to assist students who do not have access to online tools, especially those who are supposed to graduate in May; how to provide for at-risk students and those with individual education plans (IEPs); how to maintain mental health services; how to provide meals to those who need them; how to help provide childcare; and how to keep children quarantined and from congregating in public spaces.

School leaders are expecting further guidance on Thursday from the Department of Education and KDHE.

The governor encouraged residents to wash their hands frequently and to cough in their elbows, to practice social distancing, and to self-quarantine. She said now is not the time to panic. Shoppers locally have been buying stores out of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and milk. Small-town stores in our coverage area have run out of toilet paper, and one store reported getting phone calls from people in Wichita looking for toilet paper.

In response to a reporter’s question, Kelly said Kansas is not putting restrictions on restaurants at this time. On Sunday, Ohio said it was shutting down restaurants. In California, bars and nightclubs have been ordered closed, but restaurants are being allowed to stay open because they fill an important needed. However, California restaurants have been directed to not exceed half-capacity.

Several national grocery chains are altering their hours to give employees time to restock and to clean stores. Starbucks has said it is looking to closing some stores, and limiting many others to to-go orders.