Douglas County health department orders dine-in restaurants closed, limits public gatherings to 10 people

photo by: Lauren Fox

Signs in the windows of restaurants on Massachusetts Street announce closures and service changes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.

Story updated at 4:51 p.m. Wednesday

Douglas County’s health officer has ordered all restaurants, dining facilities, bars, taverns, night clubs and movie theaters closed to the public as a proactive social distancing measure in light of the spreading coronavirus.

In his order Wednesday afternoon, the health officer, Dr. Thomas Marcellino, also prohibited public gatherings of more than 10 people. Both measures will be in effect until at least April 1, according to a news release from Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health.

“It is incredibly important during this time for people to limit their gatherings to less than 10 people as we try to flatten the curve of the spread of this virus and for people to avoid non-essential community engagement and non-essential trips out of their homes,” Marcellino said in the release.

As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, Douglas County had one confirmed case of COVID-19, though health officials around the country expect numbers to increase in the coming days.

Restaurants will still be permitted to provide drive-thru, pickup and delivery services. These are the same restaurant restrictions that health officers in Johnson and Wyandotte counties enacted earlier this week.

“We want to limit environments where people have a greater chance of congregating in a crowd of more than 10 people,” Marcellino said. “We appreciate the work and cooperation of all business owners as we seek to work together to limit the spread of the virus and especially protect those who might be most vulnerable.”

The order to prohibit gatherings larger than 10 people relates to both indoor and outdoor gatherings. It does not restrict governmental and judicial functions, health care facilities, private business operations, religious and faith-based activities, weddings and funerals.

Many Lawrence restaurants had already shut down their dine-in services before Wednesday’s order.

On Tuesday around mid-day, 41 downtown restaurants and businesses on Massachusetts Street in Lawrence had signs up announcing they were either closing or restricting service to takeout and delivery because of the outbreak. Other restaurants, however, remained open.

The City of Lawrence and Douglas County, the local courts and other exempted organizations, including many churches, had also already moved to limit or ban gatherings in their buildings.

On Tuesday, the county health department had ordered an eight-week halt to gatherings of 50 people or more, and it “strongly” recommended against gatherings with more than 10 people for the same period. By Wednesday afternoon, “known community transmission” had been identified to the east in Johnson County, which had at least 11 confirmed cases, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The state as as whole had 21 confirmed cases as of 2:30 p.m., although KDHE said that testing would begin to be limited to only the most serious cases in Johnson County, given the widespread nature of the virus there and the potential strain on laboratories and hospital resources.

Patients in Douglas County who have symptoms — difficulty breathing, cough and fever — and are seeking medical attention should call their health care provider first before showing up at any medical offices. Patients without a health care provider may call the Lawrence Douglas-County health department’s coronavirus line, 785-856-4343.

More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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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 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.


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