Following Sunday protest, health department director says county is ‘prepared to handle whatever comes’ with respect to COVID-19

photo by: Nick Gerik

Demonstrators march against police brutality in downtown Lawrence, Sunday, May 31, 2020.

Despite a large crowd of protesters in downtown Lawrence Sunday night, the leader of Douglas County’s health department is not asking that all participants self-quarantine for two weeks.

As the Journal-World reported, a crowd of potentially thousands of people gathered to protest the recent death of George Floyd, a black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis. Douglas County, which decided last week to follow Gov. Laura Kelly’s plan for reopening the state, is currently in phase two, which prohibits mass gatherings of more than 15 people.

When asked if there was anything participants could do following the protest to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and if the health department would recommend that protesters self-quarantine for two weeks, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health Director Dan Partridge responded that protesters should be “smart and safe.”

“We are not asking participants in Sunday’s protest to do anything we wouldn’t ask of anyone else, which is to be smart and safe, including contact your healthcare provider if you are feeling symptomatic and otherwise take those other measures day to day, such as practicing social distancing and wear a mask if you do go into public,” he wrote in an email to the Journal-World.

When asked if he was concerned that Douglas County might see a spike in cases following the protest, Partridge said that the county is prepared to handle whatever may come in the future. He also said he believes the health department has a good system in place for handling contact tracing of any potential outbreaks in Douglas County.

Partridge said he believes it is safe for people to gather in socially distant ways and with smart practices, such as wearing masks. In the event of a future protest, Partridge said the health department encourages everyone to wear masks, practice social distancing, wash their hands or use hand sanitizer.

“There is an inherent risk in reopening our community, which is why our leadership has adopted the phased approach outlined in the Governor’s plan,” Partridge said, adding that the inherent risk is also the reason the health department will continue to communicate guidelines to the public and monitor metrics for how to move along in phases.

Douglas County has reported 67 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, local officials said Monday — an increase of one case since Friday.

In Douglas County, 64 out of the 67 people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 have recovered, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health said in its daily update.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s online map noted that 3,529 Douglas County residents have been tested for the disease so far. The county’s testing rate per 1,000 people was 28.9.

No patients at Lawrence’s hospital had COVID-19 on Monday, according to a release from LMH Health.

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