Under governor’s reopening plan, many restrictions won’t change for a while

photo by: Orlin Wagner/AP Photo

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly announces the state's plan to reopen during a speech broadcast from Topeka, Kan., Thursday, April 30, 2020, during the coronavirus outbreak.

The state of Kansas will begin a gradual process of reopening from COVID-19-related shutdowns on May 4, but it will be at least half a month before the state can lift many of its restrictions on businesses and social gatherings, Gov. Laura Kelly said in a televised address Thursday.

When the stay-at-home order ends at midnight on May 3 and the first phase of the state’s four-phase reopening plan begins, not a lot will change at first. Kelly said gatherings will still be limited to fewer than 10 people, the use of masks in public will still be encouraged, nonessential travel should be kept to a minimum, and many businesses won’t be allowed to reopen yet.

Those businesses include bars and nightclubs — excluding those providing carry-out services — salons and barber shops, casinos, gyms, community centers, large entertainment venues, swimming pools and organized sports facilities, among others.

“Sadly, even if we do everything perfectly for the next few months, everything remains subject to the whims of this unyielding virus,” Kelly said.

Restaurants will be among the businesses allowed to reopen in Phase I of the plan. They won’t face capacity limits but must observe limits on mass gatherings in entrances and lobbies. If tables reach the mass-gathering limits, they must be 6 feet from other tables or must be separated by “physical barriers sufficient to prevent virus spread.” All businesses that reopen will be required to avoid having more than 10 people together in such a way that they can’t practice 6-foot social distancing.

At least initially, local and county governments will have a lot of say in what the reopening looks like. If local health departments want to be more stringent than the statewide social distancing and business requirements that Kelly set out for the first phase, they can do so, but they can not weaken any guidelines from Kelly’s plan.

Douglas County officials indicated in a statement following Kelly’s address that they would communicate more specific instructions for residents before the statewide stay-at-home order expires.

“Like the Governor’s plan outlines, our timeline for advancing in phases is dependent on Douglas County residents cooperating with restrictions that are still in place and practicing good social-distancing measures,” Douglas County Health Officer Dr. Thomas Marcellino said in the statement.

If all goes according to plan — meaning the overall spread, hospitalization percentage and death rate attributed to COVID-19 in the state continue to decrease in the 14 days following May 4 — the state can then move to a more relaxed set of guidelines. Phase II of the plan will begin no sooner than May 18, Kelly said Thursday.

In Phase II, salons and barber shops can open, bars can begin to open at 50% capacity, casinos can open with proper cleaning and social distancing guidelines, and community centers and child care facilities can begin to resume services. Gatherings will be limited to fewer than 30 people during this phase.

Phase III of the plan, which can begin no sooner than June 1, is when restrictions will be lifted more earnestly. Gatherings of up to 90 people will be allowed, employers will no longer be advised to have workers operate remotely, and nonessential travel will no longer be discouraged.

June 15 is the earliest date that Phase IV of the plan could begin. In this phase, nearly all restrictions will be phased out, though people will still be encouraged to practice social distancing on their own.

Top Republican legislators criticized Kelly for treating different kinds of businesses differently. Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, told reporters during a video conference that owners of all kinds of businesses believe they can operate safely with social distancing and other steps, such as deep cleaning.

“We’ve got more bankruptcies coming down the pike every week,” said Wagle, a U.S. Senate candidate and frequent Kelly critic. “The economy is hitting the cliff.”

Kelly said that in her 16 years in public service, the plan to reopen Kansas was among the most exhaustive efforts she has undertaken. She said she tried to incorporate as many ideas as possible from numerous stakeholders.

“This has been a painstaking, intensive exercise in balance,” Kelly said.

Prior to Kelly’s unveiling, the state Department of Health and Environment reported nearly 500 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s cumulative total to 4,238. The department also confirmed four more deaths from the virus, bringing Kansas’ death toll to 129.

KDHE also added Massachusetts and Rhode Island on Thursday to its list of states requiring a mandatory 14-day quarantine after travel, and removed California, Florida and Washington from the list.

Kelly concluded her address by acknowledging there continue to be many unknowns associated with both COVID-19 and how Kansas will manage its response. It’s unknown, for example, whether college dorm rooms will be able to safely reopen in the fall, or how the safety of elections in August and November will be protected.

“This plan is not etched in stone,” she said. “But the fundamental purpose is to provide as much predictability as possible.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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