COVID-19 health orders in Shawnee County turned to recommendations, masks still required for now
COVID-19 health orders in Shawnee County have been changed to recommendations, rather than restrictions, starting Monday. The vote to make orders recommendations passed 2-1 with Commissioner Kevin Cook voting against the decision.
Health orders and masks are still required on county property.
Did the mask mandate change in Shawnee County?
The health order and mask mandate were voted on separately and the mask mandate will remain in place for now. Commissioner Bill Riphahn made a motion to repeal the mask mandate, but the motion wasn't seconded.
Another motion was made to end the mandate at 12:01 a.m. April 16, which passed 3-0. Further action could be taken by commissioners to extend the order, which Cook plans to do.
Cook said the decision to make orders restrictions was a few weeks premature. He said he wants to be more cautious and allow more people to be vaccinated.
Riphahn said it was time to give people a choice. Riphahn's decision to remove the mask mandate sooner didn't have commission support but did have the support of multiple public speakers who were upset the mask mandate wasn't repealed.
What was the health order that will soon be a recommendation?
Shawnee County health officer Erin Locke's updated health order was approved by commissioners only a week ago. That order lifted operating hours restrictions and raised gathering sizes. It still limited mass gatherings to 25 people.
Locke recommended the current health order and mask mandates remain unchanged.
Commissioner Aaron Mays said last week he wanted to discuss the orders after the state moved to Phase 3 of its vaccine distribution plan. He was surprised the state moved so quickly, but is confident COVID-19 numbers are in a good place.
The commissioners made their vote after Locke presented a new COVID-19 index.
Can Shawnee County meet the new demand for vaccines in Phase 3?
Dusty Nichols, incident commander for Shawnee County’s COVID-19 response team, said there could be a backlog of vaccine appointments when the county moves to Phase 3 on Monday.
"That is already starting to occur," he said. "Even though we are going to Phase 3 and 4, we can't do a bum rush on vaccine clinics. We can't handle it, that is the load that'll put us over."
Nichols said Shawnee County and its vaccine collaborative have the ability to vaccinate more people but don't currently have a large enough weekly allocation to increase appointments.
Gov. Laura Kelly said the state will see 100,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson by the end of the month, but Nichols said the county has yet to hear how its allotment could change.
What is on Shawnee County's new COVID-19 community indicator?
The new COVID-19 community indicator sits at a score of 2. This low score comes after the new indicator weighted certain categories more than others and raised thresholds for some categories.
If case counts were above 175 in one week, that would be considered "uncontrolled" on the previous version of the scorecard. More than 350 cases are needed to enter the highest category on the new system.
Locke said these were changed because the scorecard was too strict. Business owners have told The Topeka Capital-Journal that during the pandemic their customer base would come and go as the scorecard rose and fell, leading to frustrations over the old tracking system.
Nichols said the health department did the best it could with the information it had at the time.
"We have adjusted to meet the current need as the numbers start to decline," he said. "We are taking in the criticism, meeting that and adjusting as we go forward."
The new tracking system looks at six measures with "core measures" weighted twice as much as other measures. Weekly cases and weekly positivity rate are core measures while case investigation stress, hospital stress, contact tracing stress and incident trend are secondary measures.
Categories also have new labels in the new tracking system and ranks each section as either low, moderate, substantial and high.