Public health officials say plan is in the works to enforce new order regarding alcohol service at bars, restaurants
photo by: Kevin Anderson/Journal-World File Photo
Local public health officials say they are creating a plan to step up enforcement of health orders put in place to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, including a recent order that prohibits businesses from serving alcohol after 9 p.m.
As part of its work session Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission received a report and presentation from Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health regarding local COVID-19 cases and the community’s response to the pandemic. Some commissioners said they are frequently contacted by members of the public who are concerned about violations of health orders regarding mask use, social distancing or gathering limits.
“I think there is concern, not only that those things are happening, but what we need to do when we see something like that,” Mayor Jennifer Ananda said.
LDCPH Director Dan Partridge responded that reports of health order violations can be sent to email@example.com, and that the health department will provide educational information to the violator, or, in the case of repeated violations, can refer the case to the district attorney. Regarding the county’s recent order requiring any business with a liquor license to cease serving alcohol at 9 p.m., Partridge said the health department had a call last week with law enforcement and the district attorney about what it would take to enforce the order.
“Staff are busy putting together a plan,” Partridge said. “And we’re going to meet to go over that and hopefully create a presence in the community around enforcement very soon.”
There were also some questions about the particulars of the license order, which affects both restaurants and bars. Commissioner Courtney Shipley said there are some businesses that had been strictly adhering to health orders while others had not, and she wondered which approach would be better: broad orders that affect all businesses in a certain category, or more targeted, “surgical” enforcement that focuses on businesses that don’t follow recommendations. Commissioner Lisa Larsen also asked what the criteria would be for the health department to remove such orders.
Partridge responded that the order regarding liquor was based on local data that shows that bar environments are a place where COVID-19 can spread easily. However, he said that exactly how the health order should work is open to change.
“We’ve only got six or seven months of COVID under our belts and so we need to continue to listen and be open, and continue to evaluate what the data and the medicine tells us,” Partridge said. “So, I wouldn’t say we’re done looking at that public health order; we’re really just starting.”
Partridge also discussed current cases — there have been a total of 1,739 cases in the county so far, and 717 are currently active. Partridge noted that means that 40% of all the community’s cases since the first case occurred in March are current and active right now. He said the community’s positive test rate as of Tuesday was 9.4%, which he said is almost back up to an earlier peak of 9.8%. He also said that while the number of positive cases identified each day was going down, it was not clear whether that was due to a true decline in the disease or because the University of Kansas was testing fewer people.
Shipley also asked about the health department’s control over KU operations and whether there is guidance for KU as there is for K-12 schools. KU students have the option of taking online classes, but can also opt to take classes in person. Partridge responded that whether classes should be entirely online or not is up to the university, and that the health department only has the authority to close or open KU. He said guidance regarding KU operations exists but it would be up to KU to share that document.