Sedgwick County lowers public gathering limit

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Enforcement efforts now include fines

By Travis MountsTSnews

The City of Wichita, Sedgwick County and other local officials finalized enforcement protocols in unincorporated areas of the county and in Wichita regarding the Sedgwick County local health order signed Nov. 24.In addition, a new order with new limits on mass gatherings went into effect last Friday, and runs through Jan. 9.Mass gatherings are limited to 25 people. People must still be masked and maintain 6 feet of social distancing. Businesses and organizations are responsible for ensuring that individuals comply with the order. Fitness centers are limited to 100 individuals or 50 percent of capacity, whichever is less.Restaurants and bars are not considered mass gatherings. However, thy are required to reduce their capacity to 100 people or 50 percent capacity, whichever is less. Tables may not have more than eight people seated together, and must be spaced at least six feet apart. In-person dining is limited to 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Curbside and drive-through service as well as delivery are allowed between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., but carry-out is not. Bars and night clubs must close in-person dining and drinking areas by 11 p.m.Youth and recreational sports events are limited to no more than two spectators per person. This does not apply to events governed by the Kansas State High School Activities Association, which in a vote last week opted to continue the high school and middle school sports seasons without spectators through the end of January.While the focus of enforcement is to educate businesses about COVID-19 safety and to encourage best health practices, failure to comply with the local health order is a violation of County code and may result in the offending business receiving a citation and notice to appear in County Court. The penalty for any violation would be a fine.Do not dial 9-1-1 to report businesses in violation of the local health order, county officials asked.Instead, residents are asked to utilize an online portal to report businesses that violate the order at www.sedgwickcounty.org/covid-19/violations. A link to this portal can also be found on the county’s homepage, www.sedgwickcounty.org.Under the standard approach, once a complaint is received and reviewed, the business may receive a notification letter from the Sedgwick County Health Department. Officials will then begin an investigation and if a violation is confirmed, the business may receive a citation and notice to appear in court. If the investigation determines that the business is in compliance, no further action will be taken.Clearwater is the only city so far in the TSnews coverage area to approve an agreement with Sedgwick County. Haysville declined to adopt its own local ordinance, leaving enforcement up to the county.Cheney opted for local enforcement through municipal court. Possible punishment includes a fine up to $500 and 30 days in jail, although city officials said at their Nov. 12 city council meeting that their primary goal is to get people and businesses to comply with the county’s health orders.Garden Plain and Goddard city councils have not addressed the county’s proposal, nor have they considered any local enforcement of the latest county order. The Garden Plain City Council met on Wednesday of this week, after the paper went to press, and Goddard City Council meets on Monday.While COVID-19 vaccines look promising, they are not available yet. Health officials recommend everyone follow best safety practices to keep themselves, their family, co-workers and the community safe with frequent hand washing, social distancing and wearing a mask to reduce the spread of the disease.
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