Kansas to slow down plan to reopen state economy as COVID-19 continues to spread; Douglas County aligning with state

photo by: Associated Press

In this Friday, May 8, 2020 photo, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly discusses the coronavirus pandemic during a news conference with Dr. Lee Norman, the state's top health administrator, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Updated at 5:02 p.m. Thursday

The state of Kansas will slow down its reopening process from Gov. Laura Kelly’s initial four-step plan announced in April, her office announced Thursday.

Barber shops and hair and nail salons can now open Monday on a by-appointment basis, but many restrictions from Phase 1 of Kelly’s reopening plan will remain in place. The mass gathering limit will remain at 10 people, and bars, casinos and theaters will stay closed until at least June.

Phase 2 of Kelly’s plan was tentatively scheduled to take effect Monday and expand the limit on mass gatherings to 30 people while allowing many more businesses to reopen.

Instead, Kansas will move into what Kelly’s office is calling Phase 1.5 of the reopening process, as the state hasn’t seen enough downturn in the spread of COVID-19 to justify fully moving on to Phase 2.

“The good news is that hospitalizations and COVID-related deaths continue to decline, enabling us to move forward with our efforts to safely reopen Kansas,” Kelly said in a news release.

“Unfortunately, the daily rate of disease spread has not shown the downward trajectory necessary to move fully into Phase 2,” Kelly said. “I said from the beginning that public safety must remain the top priority, which means that our reopening efforts must be driven by data, not dates. Phase 1.5 will continue our transition, but with necessary caution.”

Douglas County Health Officer Dr. Thomas Marcellino announced Thursday that the county would not impose additional local health orders and would align its procedures with Kelly’s Phase 1.5.

That means restaurants in the county can reopen for dine-in services on Monday. Libraries in the county will also be allowed to reopen, Marcellino said. Those establishments will be required to keep patrons at least 6 feet apart, in line with social-distancing guidelines.

“Douglas County residents have done a good job up to this point at helping flatten the curve of the virus, and we continue to ask them to follow guidelines like keeping their circle of contacts small, staying home as much as possible and wearing cloth masks in public,” he said in a statement.

Kelly has signed an executive order updating the changes to the reopening plan, her office said, and the order will take effect Monday. Kelly will brief legislators on the order later Thursday afternoon.

As part of Phase 1.5, fitness centers and health clubs will also be allowed to reopen on a limited basis. No in-person group fitness classes will be allowed, and locker rooms, pools and event spaces will stay closed. Only the fitness center aspects of gyms can open.

Restaurants were allowed to reopen during Phase 1 of Kelly’s plan on May 4, but many chose to keep their dining rooms closed and provide only carryout services.

Graduations will technically be allowed to take place during Phase 1.5, but they must stay in line with mass gathering limits of 10 people.

Going forward, Kelly’s office said the governor would evaluate the state’s disease spread, testing rates, death rates, hospitalizations, the ability of state and local public health authorities to contain outbreaks and conduct contact tracing, and the availability of personal protective equipment in determining whether Kansas can move to the next step of reopening.

The timeline of the reopening plan will also be pushed back, with restrictions now lasting until the end of June.

Phase 2, in which bars, nightclubs, casinos and community pools can open, will now begin no sooner than June 1. Phase 3 of the plan, which increases the mass gathering limit to 90 people and allows all businesses to fully open as long as they adhere to that limit, can now begin no sooner than June 15.

The final phase of the plan, which phases out all restrictions on gatherings, can begin no sooner than June 29. Each phase is still subject to change, and Kelly must approve each additional step with a new executive order.

That caveat took on additional importance Wednesday, as members of the Kansas State Finance Council voted to extend Kansas’ emergency declaration — which allows Kelly to issue executive orders related to COVID-19 — only until May 26.

Kansas lawmakers will return to Topeka on May 21 for the annual sine die adjournment session, where they will evaluate their authority to oversee Kelly’s authority under the state Emergency Management Act.

Any extension of the state of emergency, though, would have to be authorized by the Legislature, according to state statute. If legislators on May 21 for whatever reason can’t pass a new emergency powers bill and extend the state of emergency, all executive orders relating to the pandemic would be null and void on May 26.

Should that happen, the rest of Kelly’s reopening plan would be thrown into chaos, as state statute makes it difficult for her to issue a new state of emergency — and therefore additional executive orders related to reopening the state — for the same disaster.

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