With Wichita officially coming on board with Sedgwick County’s enforcement protocols on COVID-19 health orders Tuesday, the county commission also moved forward with measures to make it easier for other area cities to follow suit.
The county commission voted unanimously to enter into an enforcement services agreement with Wichita at a special meeting on Tuesday. The commission then also approved (4-0) a resolution delegating signing authority for future such agreements with county municipalities to either commission chair Pete Meitzner or County Manager Tom Stolz.
Having the new resolution in place would ease the process of initiating enforcement agreements with the other cities in Sedgwick County, staff noted. They also outlined how the process would work for any municipalities entering into such an agreement.
Per the resolution putting the county’s enforcement efforts in place, infractions of emergency health orders (not just pertaining to COVID-19) would be processed as code violations. As such, initiation of the enforcement process will start with complaints being filed with the Sedgwick County Metropolitan Area Building and Construction Department.
Sedgwick County Public Information Officer Kate Flavin reported a portal has been set up on the MABCD site (sedgwickcounty.org/mabcd) for citizens to file complaints, which will go the the MABCD, health department and legal department – with the intent to deal with disregard of the health orders on a larger scale.
“The intention of this website is to focus on businesses or public areas where people gather that are not complying with the health order,” Stolz said.
Health Director Adrienne Byrne and the county legal team will determine whether to follow up on complaints, with businesses to receive a letter from the health department following a violation complaint.
Local city officials would also receive notification of the non-compliance issues. From there, local officials would investigate the business receiving a complaint.
If the business is determined to be following the health orders, the investigation is closed and no further action will be taken. If a violation is confirmed, a citation will be issued and notice to appear in County Court may follow. Local officials involvement in the process may also lead to testifying in court.
Violations of the emergency health orders could come with a fine between $250 and $500 from the County Court, though it was clarified there is no potential jail time tied to such violations at the county level.
Following a new emergency public health order signed by County Health Officer Dr. Garold Minns on Tuesday, staff also noted there will be new guidelines to be enforced as of Nov. 27 (through Jan. 9).
Assistant County Counselor Justin Waggoner noted the primary changes in the most recent health orders included language clarifying masks/face coverings must be worn in any indoor public space at all times – eliminating language that allowed masks not be worn indoors if 6 feet of social distance could be maintained.
On top of that, the new order reduces the maximum amount of individuals allowed in a mass gathering from 100 to 25. It was noted, however, there are a number of exemptions to what constitutes a mass gathering – including retail stores, bars/restaurants, gyms/fitness centers, etc. Those have their own set of capacity requirements – 50 percent of fire code capacity for retail stores and no more than 50 percent of capacity or 100 patrons (whichever is less) for the others.
Commissioner Jim Howell questioned if the gathering limit would apply to the restrictions imposed on youth sports – with only 2 spectators allowed per participant. Given the number of potential playing areas in a 150,000 sq. ft. building, Howell sees those areas as different, unique gatherings.
“I don’t see how that 25-person limit can possibly apply in that situation,” Howell said.
Waggoner also stated with the way the order is worded, isolated playing areas (i.e., courts with partitions between them) could be viewed as separate gatherings.
Additionally, Commissioner David Dennis questioned if youth sporting events may fall under the broader gathering limitations of gyms/fitness centers.
Given the number of questions on that, Metizner called for Minns to clarify the youth sports item in his most recent order. Meanwhile, Commissioner Lacey Cruse questioned if these most recent measures – as well as enforcement efforts – will do the trick in getting COVID-19 under control.
“I just am pleading with people to do what you can to slow the spread. I believe that’s what this is for,” Cruse said. “I just hope this order does enough because what is the next option?”