The Lawrence-Douglas County health department has issued a “stay at home” order that will go into effect early Tuesday morning to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The order includes restrictions similar to those announced earlier this weekend by counties in the Kansas City area and will be in effect from 12:01 a.m. Tuesday until at least April 23.
Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health announced the order Sunday night, under the authority of Douglas County’s health officer, Dr. Thomas Marcellino.
“With full community cooperation, this proactive public health order can minimize the impact of COVID-19 on our Douglas County community,” Marcellino said.
The order says all community members should stay at home except to perform essential duties for business continuity or government functions, to get food, care for a relative or friend, get necessary health care or perform activities related to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as going outside for walks while not in a group and practicing proper social distancing.
The order may require some businesses to close, although a lengthy list of essential businesses — grocery stores, health care facilities, gas stations and many others — that can remain open have been identified by the health department. However, the department did list three types of businesses — barbershops, tattoo parlors and fitness centers — that should close under the order, after the Journal-World asked for more specifics.
“Douglas County Health Officer Dr. Thomas Marcellino said the intent of the order is for people to remain home except for essential needs, like to get food and medicine, meaning businesses such as barbershops, tattoo parlors and fitness centers should close until the order is lifted,” the department said in an email response to the Journal-World.
The department also clarified that individuals would need to restrict their social visits in order to stay in compliance with the order. On a frequently asked questions page, the department said “play dates for children” and having friends over for dinner are not allowed under the stay at home order.
However, people are allowed to leave their homes to check on elderly parents or neighbors, to visit grandchildren or to take care of other matters related to custody of children or childcare in general. However, the order still requires people who are undertaking those activities to follow the CDC guidelines for social distancing.
Use of outdoor parks is also allowed, but the department is discouraging the use of playground equipment at those parks.
Residents should be particularly aware of the dangers to vulnerable populations, which include the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. The order urges all members of vulnerable populations to stay at home.
The full order includes a number of exceptions for the continued operation of essential businesses, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and health care facilities.
Sunday night’s announcement is the latest in a series of escalating steps that the local health department has attempted over a 10-day span to limit the spread of the virus in the county. Previous orders prohibited gatherings of more than 250 people, down to 50 people, then finally down to 10 people. Many public facilities around Lawrence have been closed into May, and local schools and universities will be finishing their spring semesters using remote education methods. Marcellino also previously ordered the closure of Douglas County bars and restaurants to dine-in services.
In his order Sunday, Marcellino said “lack of available metrics to monitor the effect of these measures and the potential dire consequences of delay led the public health community across metropolitan Kansas City and elected officials to conclude that further delay could lead to excess mortality.”
As of Sunday afternoon, four patients in Douglas County had tested positive for COVID-19. Statewide, two people have died from the disease and more than 60 cases have been identified, although the number of actual cases is likely far greater than the confirmed cases, because of a severe lack of widespread testing.
“There is emerging evidence in neighboring counties, including Johnson County, Kansas, of transmission by pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic people, making routine case-finding and exposure tracing strategies insufficient,” Marcellino said in the order.
For those reasons, the order stresses the need for continued social distancing measures — maintaining at least six feet between individuals, washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds as frequently as possible or using hand sanitizer, covering coughs or sneezes with sleeves or elbows, regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces and not shaking hands.
While the order is in effect and non-essential businesses are closed, employees will be allowed to make a quick trips to their offices to get items, if needed, the health department said.
The health department said the order will not prevent the University of Kansas from coordinating move-outs with their students who are living in residence halls. As of Wednesday, more than 3,500 of the more than 5,000 on-campus residents were away from Lawrence, according to KU officials. The remaining students were expected to move out in a staggered process through April 7, KU said.
Essential businesses in Douglas County
The stay-at-home order issued by Douglas County Public Health list 25 different categories of essential businesses that legally can stay open under the order. They are:
• Health care operations, including hospitals and doctors’ offices, plus a broader definition of any essential infrastructure and essential government functions, which will cover major public services such as water, sanitation, police and fire services.
• Grocery stores, which also includes convenience stores and farmers markets. The definition also includes “any establishments engaged in the retail sale of: pet supplies, alcoholic beverages and any other household consumer products, such as cleaning and personal care products.” Businesses that sell food do have to comply with an order that prohibits any display that allows for the touching of unpacked baked goods.
• Farm-related work, including crop farming and livestock production
• Facilities that process food for either humans or animals
• Homeless shelters and other social service agencies that provide necessities to the economically disadvantaged
• Media companies, including newspapers, television and radio stations
• Gas station, auto repair shops and auto supply stores
• Banks and related financial institutions
• Hardware stores
• A wide range of companies that provide home repair or maintenance services, including plumbers, electricians, heating and cooling firms, moving companies, lawn and landscape companies, and janitorial services
• The post office and private businesses that provide mailing and shipping services
• Educational institutions, although the order closing all K-12 school buildings to normal activities remains in effect. However, the order makes it clear that employees who are needed to to facilitate distance learning or other such functions are exempt from the stay at home order. Food programs being provided at the schools also are exempt, as long as they do not allow any of the food to be eaten on site
• Laundromats and dry cleaners
• Restaurants, although the order prohibiting all on-site dining remains in effect. Restaurants can continue to operate for delivery or take-out orders
• Businesses that provide supplies or services for people to work from home
• Business that supply other essential businesses with the support or supplies necessary to operate
• Delivery companies that deliver groceries, food, beverages, goods or services directly to residences
• Transportation companies such as taxis or any company that is delivering goods or services to a businesses that is considered an essential business
• Companies that provide home-based care for individuals
• Nursing homes and other facilities that provide shelter to seniors, adults and children
• Offices for attorneys, accountants, real estate professionals, insurance companies and other such “professional services”
• Childcare facilities, although the order says children must be cared for in groups of 10 or less, and that children from such groups should not be interchanged
• Mortuaries and other businesses related to burial services
• Hotels and motels
• Manufacturing companies, distributors, and supply chain companies that are providing essential products or services either for essential businesses, including those in national defense, petroleum, steel and communications industries.