Officials say coronavirus concerns won’t yet cancel large group gatherings in Douglas County

photo by: Associated Press

Hawaii state Department of Health microbiologist Mark Nagata demonstrates the process for testing a sample for coronavirus at the department's laboratory in Pearl City, Hawaii on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

Despite cancellations worldwide and a reported case in Johnson County, the coronavirus won’t yet affect group gatherings in Douglas County, city and county officials said.

There are currently no plans to cancel future events that may draw large crowds, said Porter Arneill, communications director for the City of Lawrence.

It’s a bit early to be having that conversation, said Robert Bieniecki, director of Douglas County’s emergency management department, noting that there have not been any confirmed cases in Douglas County.

Local leaders have begun meeting weekly to discuss the coronavirus outbreak.

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Their first meeting was March 6 and included representatives from the city, county, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health and LMH Health.

Kansas’ first case of coronavirus was confirmed on Saturday after a woman living in Johnson County tested positive for the coronavirus, originated in Wuhan, China. She has now been admitted to University of Kansas hospital, in Kansas City, Kan., the hospital announced Monday.

Nationwide, however, there have been over 650 confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States, as of Monday afternoon, and at least 26 patients with the virus have died, according to the New York Times.

Some organizations across the U.S. are taking precautions by canceling or postponing events. South by Southwest, a music, film and technology festival in Austin, Texas, was canceled by city officials on Friday. The University of Washington shifted to online classes for its 50,000 students, and other universities have followed suit since, some canceling classes and others holding virtual courses.

On Sunday, a top U.S. health official said older Americans, especially those with chronic medical concerns, should avoid large social gatherings and traveling on airplanes, Reuters reported.

Lawrence city manager Craig Owens said the city is “developing internal plans for potential impacts on city services” and coordinating “comprehensive response plans for the community as needed.” He said the city is closely monitoring the coronavirus and is in regular communication with Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

George Diepenbrock, communications officer for Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, said that while there are currently no plans to cancel large group gatherings in the county, people who aren’t feeling well should take precaution and stay away from crowded events.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has a document on guidance for mass gatherings in light of the virus on their new coronavirus online resource center. The document advises event organizers to have extra supplies at their event, such as hand sanitizers, tissues, sinks with soap and disposable face masks for people who may become sick. They should also establish procedures to help sick staff or attendees leave the event as soon as possible.

Event organizers for the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, which will be next Tuesday on March 17, did not respond to a request for comment from the Journal-World. Arneill said that at this time, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade will go on as planned. Last year, a St. Patrick’s Day Parade committee member estimated that more than 25,000 people were in attendance.

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