All City of Lawrence buildings to close; mayor urges public to limit gatherings to 10 people
photo by: Rochelle Valverde
The City of Lawrence will close all city buildings to the public, including City Hall, in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The city announced the closure at the Lawrence City Commission’s meeting on Tuesday, which was held not long after the announcement of Douglas County’s first case of COVID-19. During remarks at the beginning of the meeting, which was broadcast online, Mayor Jennifer Ananda urged residents to follow health directives regarding public gatherings. Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health on Tuesday also ordered an eight-week halt to gatherings of 50 people or more, and it recommended against gatherings with more than 10 people for the same period. Ananda asked residents to follow the stricter recommendation.
“On behalf of this commission, and of the City of Lawrence, I want to echo that recommendation and urge our community to please follow the advice and guidance of these experts,” Ananda said. “These recommendations can save lives, and it is up to us to do everything we can to help minimize the spread of COVID-19.”
Ananda emphasized that residents need to follow other preventive measures, such as staying home if they are sick, washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, keeping at least 6 feet away from others at gatherings and not touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Ananda also asked city staffers if they could enable residents to submit general public comments electronically, and staff said that would be an option for future meetings.
Following Ananda’s remarks, City Manager Craig Owens announced the closure of all city buildings to everyone but essential employees beginning Wednesday. Owens said the decision to close buildings to the public was due to the announcement of the local case, and that most interactions with the city can be accomplished via internet or phone.
“Our website is a great resource and our teams are ready to assist those who call with questions,” Owens said. “We recognize that this may be a new way of interaction, so we are here to help steer you in the right direction.”
Owens said the city’s top priorities during the outbreak will be public safety and critical public services such as clean water, wastewater treatment and solid waste services. Following the meeting, Owens told the Journal-World that in order to help stop the spread of the virus, employees able to work remotely are doing so. For those employees whose duties don’t allow them to work from home, the city is taking other precautions. He said in addition to existing staggered shifts, the city was avoiding staff gatherings and asking employees to follow social distancing guidelines.
“We’re trying to think of everything we can do to keep people away from each other except doing their duties that are required to be done as a team or in proximity,” Owens said.
Owens also said during the meeting that the police department and Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical are coordinating efforts with the city and county to develop best practices for handling a range of scenarios related to the pandemic. During this time, he urged residents to reserve calls to 911 for emergencies only and to use the nonemergency dispatch number, 832-7509, for all other calls for assistance from the police, sheriff’s office or fire and medical department.
In response to questions from the Journal-World, Fire Medical Chief Shaun Coffey said that the department is already taking more precautions. Coffey said emergency dispatchers and medical personnel are asking additional questions when appropriate to determine whether someone seeking assistance has any COVID-19 symptoms or potential exposure. He said when needed, fire and medical personnel have gear — including gowns, goggles and facemasks — available to help protect them from exposure.
“There is a limited amount (of facemasks), and so we’re treating that as a protected commodity and using it when it’s appropriate, not on every medical call we go on,” Coffey said.
In order to avoid a public gathering, the city previously deferred all the commission’s regular agenda items. The commission only meets on the first three Tuesdays of each month, and the next regularly scheduled meeting is set for April 7.
More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
As the pandemic continues, the Journal-World will be making coverage of COVID-19 available outside of the paywall on LJWorld.com.
Find all coverage of city, county and state responses to the virus at: ljworld.com/coronavirus/
What to do if you think you may have COVID-19
Patients who have symptoms — difficulty breathing, cough and fever — should stay home, immediately isolate themselves from others and call their health care providers. Patients should never show up unannounced at a medical office or hospital. Instead, they should call ahead to explain their symptoms and give health care workers the ability to minimize the risk to others.
If patients do not have health care providers, they may call the Lawrence Douglas-County health department’s coronavirus line, 785-856-4343.
For updated information on the outbreak, Kansas residents can email COVIDfirstname.lastname@example.org or call 866-534-3463 (866-KDHEINF), which is staffed 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
More information can be found through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website or the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health website.