Douglas County will remain in phase three of its reopening plan and bars will remain closed following an increase in confirmed cases of the coronavirus, local health officials said in a news release Wednesday.
The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department confirmed an additional 34 cases of COVID-19 since Monday.
There are now at least 482 confirmed cases of the virus in Douglas County. Seven in-patients at Lawrence Memorial Hospital have tested positive for COVID-19, the highest since the pandemic began, said Douglas County’s Local Health Officer Dr. Thomas Marcellino.
“Since the bar closing order and the masking order both took effect in early July, we have seen the number of new cases come down, so we believe these have been effective measures to help slow the spread of the virus,” Marcellino said. “However, the disease investigation process has connected a large number of our recent cases directly or indirectly to individuals who congregated at bar environments in June.”
Health officials identified at least 108 confirmed cases tied to bar environments after they were initially allowed to open on June 8, when the county entered phase three of the reopening plan. Bars closed July 3 after at least two outbreaks occurred at bars popular with University of Kansas students.
Statewide, there are at least 20,933 confirmed cases from 102 counties, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. There were 299 deaths reported as of Wednesday morning.
The state of Kansas and Douglas County remain under a mask order issued by Gov. Laura Kelly, requiring individuals to wear a mask in any space that does not allow for six feet of social distancing.
“It is clear mask usage slows the spread of the virus,” Marcellino said. “We appreciate the cooperation of the public and businesses in the implementation of the mask order as we believe this will help us keep more of our community open and limit the spread of the virus.”
Kansas K-12 schools will delay their start date until after Labor Day following the recent rise in cases, Kelly announced Wednesday during a press briefing.
As part of the executive order that will take effect Monday, schools will not be able to opt out of “common sense mitigation strategies” such as face masks, temperature checks and social distancing, Kelly said.
“We can’t risk the lives of our teachers, administrators, custodians, our students or their parents by opening schools in just over three weeks,” Kelly said.
This action currently only applies to the Kansas K-12 program, not state universities.
“If our state actions continue, the numbers will continue to climb and we will break our hospital system ... and there is no way schools or businesses will be able to return to normal this fall, if we continue this trajectory,” KDHE Sec. Lee Norman said at the briefing. “The decisions Kansans make in the weeks to come will determine whether we gain control of the spread or let the virus inevitably rage on.”
Norman emphasized the necessity of face masks and social distancing to prevent further spread of the virus.
“It is important that as Kansans we acknowledge how our actions as individuals impact our community and state,” Norman said. “Just because you can do something, like work when ill or attend a large gathering, doesn’t mean you should. You shouldn’t.”