Last week saw a flurry of activity for the Leavenworth County Commission as the board addressed issues related to reopening the county for business and commerce following the COVID-19 shutdown. The commission initially scheduled a special meeting April 30 for the purpose of discussing the county specific reopening plan that was drafted by County Health Officer Jamie Miller. This special meeting was called after the governor’s office released information indicating that Kansas would follow a similar track as the state of Missouri for phasing in the reopening of the local economy. As the week progressed it became clear that the governor intended to wait until Thursday evening to release her plan and provide guidance to county and municipal governing bodies. During the governor’s presentation, it became clear that state government elected to take a top-down approach to the reopening process and thereby limit local control.
The governor released her three-phase plan titled “Ad Astra: A Plan To Reopen Kansas.” The plan dovetailed with President Trump’s plan that had been released upon the recommendation of his COVID-19 task force.
Phase 1 began May 4 and allows for limited reopening of some business while maintaining social distancing and the avoidance of social gatherings of more than 10 people. This phase is scheduled to extend at least until May 18.
Phase 2 would allow additional businesses to open and social gatherings to increase in number to 30. This would extend until at least June 1.
Phase 3 would allow all businesses to function and nonessential travel would resume. The phase out period would begin no sooner than June 15 and upon an executive order from the governor. Each phase would require careful public health monitoring to evaluate the spread of the disease and the number of active cases, with additional requirements related to testing, and a gradual decline in reported cases and fatalities.
The county plan crafted by Miller would have opened virtually all local businesses including personal care businesses like hair salons, barbers, local gyms and health clubs earlier in the process. The county plan would have asked local businesses to maintain a log of visitors for use in the event a fellow patron tested positive for COVID-19, making contact tracing necessary. The plan did include a phased approach but envisioned the possibility of moving the process faster if there was no spike in new cases. The plan was designed to focus on specific populations where the virus was identified and determine appropriate infection control steps for each situation.
The Leavenworth County Commission elected to follow the governor’s plan, with the additional recommendations related to the use of personal protective equipment and social distancing. In addition, the commission recommended voluntary maintenance of customer logs, in the event that contact tracing became necessary. The commission was assured that the logs would remain at the businesses and never be used for anything but contact tracing. Individual privacy rights would be maintained to the highest degree possible.
There have been many questions about the reopening of churches under both the governor’s plan and the county plan. Under the settlement entered into by Gov. Kelly’s administration, it was required that churches be recognized as “essential” just as businesses such as Walmart and Home Depot are “essential” and that meetings of congregations can take place as long as appropriate social distancing practices are observed.
Several local pastors have contacted me regarding this issue, and I wanted to share what the law is at this time. I do urge caution and recommend a soft reopening of congregational church services as there are so many folks in high risk groups that are likely to attend. It has been inspiring to see the faith community rise to the challenge of spreading God’s word and work in non-traditional ways. The courts have affirmed the constitutional right to gather for worship and it falls to each congregation to find the best ways to be good neighbors to each other and those seeking a local church.
Information about the Leavenworth County reopening plan can be found on the county website, www.leavenworthcounty.gov then clicking on the Leavenworth County Covid-19 (Coronavirus) Information Page.
The page has links to the Leavenworth County plan for reopening and the governor’s plan as outlined in Executive Order 20-29. The page also has additional information about precautions, personal protective equipment and recommendations for wearing masks.
Finally, I want to provide the website for obtaining unemployment benefits, www.getkansasbenefits.gov
The phone numbers for the Kansas Suicide and Crisis Hotline are 1-800-784-2433 and 1-800-273-8255.
While it looks like things will remain unstable for a bit longer let us all have hope and faith that there is light at the end of this tunnel.
Please feel free to reach out to me at any time if you need help with government related applications, local tax issues or other challenges you are experiencing while interacting with local government. I can put you in touch with the right people or provide direction for navigating the bureaucracy.
Leavenworth County Commissioner Mike Stieben represents District 5.