Douglas County extends Phase 3 of reopening for 2 more weeks because of COVID-19 uptick; second local outbreak reported

photo by: Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health

Information about Phase 3 of Douglas County's Smart and Safe Reopening Plan

Updated at 5:32 p.m. Friday

Douglas County will remain in Phase 3 of its reopening plan for an additional two weeks because of an uptick of COVID-19 cases in the county.

Based on the county’s Smart and Safe Reopening Plan, the earliest the county would have moved into its phase-out plan would have been Monday, June 22, but Douglas County’s health officer has decided to leave Phase 3 restrictions in place through July 5.

“We have seen an uptick in recent activity suggesting the coronavirus has become more active in our county,” said Douglas County Health Officer Dr. Thomas Marcellino. “I believe it’s more prudent to extend Phase 3 for two more weeks so we can get an idea of the trend of the virus and prevent chances for large mass gatherings that could potentially be a source of a large outbreak that could be devastating.”

Phase 3 prohibits gatherings larger than 45 people, and businesses must maintain social-distancing guidelines. Individuals are highly encouraged to wear a mask or cloth face covering any time they go out in public.

Marcellino said he’s been “disappointed” in the community’s compliance with wearing masks and he hopes the county will not have to mandate the practice.

“Our Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health team will be evaluating things in the next couple of weeks, but the cornerstone and foundation of preventing the virus is in mask usage,” Marcellino said. “Personally, I have been disappointed with what I have observed with mask wearing overall, and I am aware of other states and cities that have mandated it. We are hoping our community has better compliance, so that we don’t have to take those measures.”

It is especially important to wear a mask inside buildings, and businesses should require it, Marcellino said. When outside, masks should be worn when it is impossible to keep 6 feet away from others.

Douglas County has seen a steadily increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks.

On Friday, Douglas County reported 91 cases. On June 5 — the same day the county announced a police protest participant had tested positive for COVID-19 — the county had reported 70 cases. That’s an increase of 21 cases in two weeks.

Compared with some surrounding counties, where cases number in the thousands, an increase of 21 cases in two weeks would likely not be substantial. But in Douglas County, prior to June 5 it had taken nearly six weeks, from April 25, for the number of COVID-19 cases in the county to increase by 21. The number of cases jumped from 47 to 49 on April 25.

In addition to an uptick in the number of cases, Douglas County announced its second outbreak on Friday.

Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health did not release the name of the organization where the outbreak occurred, citing patient privacy restrictions. Spokesman George Diepenbrock said that of the individuals tested so far, two positive cases have been identified. The situation met the definition of an outbreak because there were two or more cases with the same identified source of exposure, and those infected do not reside in the same household.

“(We) are working closely with the organization to identify all potential close contacts and to recommend isolation and quarantine and testing when needed. As part of any contact-tracing process, if you are identified as a close contact, you will hear from us,” Diepenbrock wrote in an email to the Journal-World.

photo by: Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health

Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health’s graph of COVID-19 cases in the county as of June 19.

This week, the county did not meet three of its goals in its Reopening Douglas County Community Scorecard.

One goal was to have fewer than 10 active cases. Douglas County as of Friday had 14. Another goal was for less than 40% of beds at LMH Health to be in use. 41% of beds were in use as of Friday. The final goal the county did not meet was for there to have been no outbreaks.

Of the 91 cases in Douglas County, only seven involve people 60 or older. The majority of cases, 52, involve people in their 20s and 30s.

Seventy-seven out of the 91 people with cases of COVID-19 have recovered, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health announced in a Friday news release.

The health department breaks down cases by race and ethnicity. As of Friday, of the 91 cases, 67 patients were white, eight were African American, six were Hispanic and five were Asian American. The race and ethnicity of five other cases were unknown.

Of the 91 cases, 37 cases are believed to have been contracted through travel, 23 from local transmission and 26 from contact with someone with a positive case. Three cases are still under investigation for type of transmission, and there are two probable cases.

A probable case is someone with consistent symptoms who is a contact of a positive case but who has not yet been tested.

Contact with a positive case means the health department has determined the person’s exposure to a known positive case was the source of his or her contracting COVID-19, whereas local transmission means the department’s investigators could not identify the source of the person’s disease and the person had not recently traveled to an area where COVID-19 was present.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s online map noted that 5,005 Douglas County residents have been tested for the disease so far. The county’s testing rate per 1,000 people was 40.9.

No patients at Lawrence’s hospital had COVID-19 on Friday.

The Lawrence Parks and Recreation department, in accordance with the county orders, also made adjustments to its reopening plan, according to a city news release. As a result, the city will continue to keep its recreation centers closed for general public use until all restrictions are phased out.