Cowley County will speed up its loosening of coronavirus restrictions starting Monday and move to Phase 3 of the state plan.
The announcement came Friday, the same day a fifth official case of the virus was reported and two days after Public Health Officer Thomas Langer issued a local order saying Cowley County would stick with Gov. Laura Kelly’s Ad Astra plan after she dropped her statewide order and let counties decide for themselves.
That decision by Langer had put Cowley County in Phase 2, with Phase 3 scheduled for June 8.
Langer said in the press release Friday that part of his decision to move quicker relates to what is going on the region.
If Cowley opened up too quickly and other areas remained closed, it would have increased the chance of inviting the coronavirus here, he said.
“The concern lessened somewhat when Sedgwick County moved to immediately reopen all levels of social and economic activities in their county against the advice of their own health department and local public health officer,” Langer wrote.
Like Sedgwick County, Butler County commissioners did not issue a legal order but encouraged residents to follow personal health guidelines. In Sumner County, however, the public health officer signed an order adopting the statewide plan with local amendments. It puts that county under a Phase 3-level restriction, with a possible phase out on June 17.
Langer also said that public health conditions such as testing rates, infection rate, hospital capacity, active cases and fatality rate remain positive.
The latest case is a female with no travel history outside the county, according to the health department. It is the first new case in three weeks. Disease investigation and close contract tracing is under way.
“I am hopeful that this will be an isolated case and will not lead to more cases, but human interactions are complex and as such we will take all the necessary steps to prevent further spread of the virus,” Langer said.
The amended local plan will allow starting Monday mass gatherings (outdoor events) to 250 persons maximum, social gatherings (indoors where appropriate space is available) to 150 persons maximum, and on-site operations (indoors) to 100 persons maximum. This means:
• Churches can reopen and in person services can resume;
• Funeral services can be held;
• Weddings and special gathering events can be held;
• Local graduations can occur (within the stated limits);
• Businesses such as bars and other event venues can open;
• Summer camps can be held;
• Swimming pools can open;
• Outdoor athletics can begin;
• Local park events — music, movies etc. — can resume.
“All other conditions and guidelines within the Ad Astra plan for Phase 3 should be followed, including social distancing, personal health protections and travel restrictions when traveling outside Cowley County,” the release states.
The plan has been shared with local community leadership, emergency management and local chambers of commerce and Cowley First, the release states.
New signage for businesses and public spaces will be available soon to remind patrons to stay home if feeling ill. They will be distributed through local chambers and possible city offices.
If Phase 3 holds steady for at least two weeks, with health indicators staying at the current levels, Langer said, the county can consider moving to Phase 4, or phase out. But he added that if the virus spreads due to the expanded activity, the health department will react.
“It is extremely important that everyone understands that we are not risk free nor will we be for the foreseeable future,” he said. “That while we are moving to greater amounts of activity, it will be important that everyone remain vigilant and take all the precautions to protect against catching disease.”