JoCo’s latest pandemic health order is now in effect — Here are the key details

Johnson County will continue to require people to wear a mask in public.

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A new “public health directive” aimed at slowing the transmission of COVID-19 in Johnson County took effect at 12:01 a.m., Monday, Nov. 16, and will stay in place through at least Jan. 31.

The Board of County Commissioners passed the order Friday by a 4-3 vote after more than six hours of debate and public comment. While the measure approved by the commission does impose some new restrictions on residents and businesses, it does not go as far as what many local public health officials recommend and is far less restrictive overall than the metro-wide stay-at-home orders seen this past spring at the start of the pandemic.

Here are some key points you need to know:

Mask order remains in place

The statewide mask order issued by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly this summer — and subsequently adopted by Johnson County — has been extended as part of this new directive.

This means Johnson Countians are required to wear masks in most public places and local businesses and organizations generally must require people on their premises to wear masks. Children under 5 and individuals with certain medical conditions are exempt. Also, if you’re outdoors and able to maintain at least six feet of social distance from others, then face masks are not required.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says universal masking policies can help prevent further lockdowns and flatten a community’s curve. Meanwhile, a recent study conducted by the University of Kansas concluded that Kansas counties with mask mandates thwarted significant escalation in transmission of COVID-19 and counties operating without such mandates suffered steady infection rate increases.

Social distancing guidelines

In general, Johnson Countians are asked to maintain six feet of social distance in public, but there are exceptions to this in the county’s order.

  • In restaurants, bars and night clubs, members of the same household or individuals in the same party seated at the same table do not have to distance. Group size, however, is capped at 8 individuals, and groups themselves must be spaced out at least six feet from each other.
  • Businesses that “intrinsically require staff … to be within less than six feet from one another  or the customer” are also exempt from social distancing rules. This includes dentists, hair salons, barber shops, nail salons, chiropractors, massage services, tattoo parlors and medical/health care providers.
  • Social distancing is also not required when physical barriers, like Plexiglass shields that are now commonly seen in grocery stores and other retail shops, are in use.

Limits on ‘mass gatherings’ with exceptions

Mass gatherings are now limited to 50 people, or 50% of a venue’s capacity, whichever is fewer. That’s much higher than the limit of 15 people recently instituted in neighboring Douglas County. In addition, metro-area health leaders recently recommended that individuals avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.

Johnson County’s order says that within the 50-person limit, individuals must also be allowed to maintain 6 feet of social distance, too. But there are a whole list of exempted business and organizations from the mass gathering limit, including:

  • Restaurants
  • Bars and night clubs
  • Fitness centers and health clubs
  • Health care organizations
  • Funeral and burial services

In addition, other organizations that are exempt from mass gathering requirements, include:

  • Religious institutions
  • Polling places
  • Licensed child care facilites
  • Schools (and school-sanctioned events)
  • Courts

The only events the county’s order explicitly prohibits are “fairs, festivals, carnivals and parades.” The county’s order, however, does say political protests are excluded from mass gathering limits.

Earlier closing times, check-ins and appointments

The county’s order now requires bars, restaurants, night clubs and any other venues selling alcohol to close at midnight.

That’s later than the 10 p.m. closing time recommended by local health leaders in a statement last week urging Kansas City-area counties to adopt new public health orders. The thinking behind an earlier closing time for places that sell alcohol is that as the night wears on and more alcohol is consumed, individuals’ masking and social distancing could become more relaxed.

However, establishments may continue to provide carry-out food and beverage service after midnight.

In addition, businesses that require close contact between workers and customers — like nail salons, tattoo parlors and barber shops — are required to serve customers only through scheduled appointments or online/texting check-ins.

Guidance for sports

For recreational and youth organized sports competitions, attendance will be limited to a maximum of two attendees per participant, and fans are required to keep social distance in the stands.

However, collegiate sports and any sporting event sponsored by the Kansas High School Activities Association — which is, essentially, all high school sports in the area — do not come under these provisions. Instead, the county says the schools or districts holding those events are “strongly encouraged” to abide by these same attendance guidelines.

In the meantime, some local officials are questioning why the Johnson County Parks and Recreation District is going through with a full slate of winter activities, including indoor sports like basketball, even as the county health department recommends public schools cancel their winter sports.

Enforcement details remain undecided

Some county commissioners on Friday said the order needs more enforcement “teeth” in order to be more effective, but that suggestion got pushback from other commissinors.

“I see many, many dozens of people out here not wearing a mask,” Commissioner Janeé Hanzlick said, referring to the gallery of people in the hallway outside the commission’s chambers waiting to speak on Friday. “I think it’s really important that we put some teeth behind this.”

Later, Commissioner Mike Brown responded: “I have no interest in supporting or being a part of anything to do with Commissioner Hanzlick’s police state with a snitch line.”

The commission is set to take up the matter of how, if at all, the county’s health directive is to be enforced at Thursday’s meeting.