Sedgwick County declares state of emergency; limits placed on gatherings statewide

By Travis Mounts
Times-Sentinel

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

Later Monday, Gov. Laura Kelly extended a similar ban statewide.

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.”

On Tuesday, Sumner County issued an order prohibiting public gatherings in excess of 50 people anywhere in Sumner County. The term “public gathering” includes any indoor and outdoor event that would bring 50 or more people together in a single room, or in a confined indoor or outdoor space.

As in other similar bans, this does not include office space, residential buildings including apartments and hotels, grocery stories, hospitals and medical offices, and other similar places.

This situation has been changing rapidly since late last week, when the county initially limited gatherings to 250 people. That led to the cancellation of concerts and the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in Wichita’s Delano District.

Monday’s new declaration has taken things further. Most church services this Sunday will be impacted. Many restaurants and bars now must restrict how many people can come into their facilities. Other restaurants, in Kansas and across the nation, have chosen to eliminate dine-in eating. Instead, they will use drive-thrus, bring meals out to customers’ cars, or utilize their own delivery or online services like Grub Hub.

Many local cities and community organizations have made changes. Lots of those changes were announced on Monday and Tuesday (see related story).

Colleges across Kansas have extended their springs breaks, shutting down campuses, and making plans to finish out the spring semester using online education.

The Kansas State High School Activities Association canceled the final two rounds of the State basketball tournament (see related story). That broke the hearts of many athletes. Four local teams made it to State and won their first-round games last Wednesday or Thursday (read more in Sports). Then it was announced that KSHSAA was prohibiting all practices and activities this week.

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.

The Sedgwick County Zoo, the Wichita Art Museum and Botanica are among the community organizations that have closed until further notice.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the state was reporting a total of 18 cases of COVID-19, which causes novel coronavirus. Ten of those cases were in Johnson County, with one in Franklin County and three cases in Wyandotte County, including one death. 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. The latest confirmed case was in Douglas County.

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 found at www.kdheks.gov/coronavirus/index.htm. You may call KDHE toll-free at 1-866-534-3463.