WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Sedgwick County Health Officer Dr. Garold Minns is asking the Sedgwick County Commission to consider three things to prevent the spread of the coronavirus within the county.
Minns told commissioners Tuesday that he recently took a phone call from one of the local hospitals, concerned about how their numbers of coronavirus patients were expanding. He said they were nervous about what would happen if the number continues to expand.
“They weren’t at the crisis level yet, but they were worried about the inflection of the curve and the direction of the curve,” said Minns.
He told commissioners he wanted to suggest some ways to control the spread of the virus without causing any more economic injury than necessary.
First, Minns wants the commissioners to restrict large groups of people coming into Sedgwick County from out of state for various competitions.
“As you know, many states are hot spots now,” he told commissioners Tuesday morning. “We have no way of screening those people. I think for the time being it would be best if we just suspended all of those types of visits here to Kansas, to Wichita.”
Secondly, Minns wants the county to restrict restaurants and retail shops to 50% of total capacity. He said the idea came from a meeting he had a while ago with representatives of various business entities.
“Those representing the restaurant industry are the ones who came in and suggested that,” he said. “The restaurant industry recommendations were, until this virus is brought under control, to limiting occupancy to 50% of the fire code capacity.”
Finally, Minns would like people to wear masks in public. He said he is interested to see how Governor Laura Kelly’s order plays out. She said she will require masks to be worn in public starting Friday, July 3.
Minns said national authorities have been giving out mixed messages about masks since the beginning of the pandemic.
“I think they now regret they allowed such equivocation about that,” he said.
Minns says masks are not 100% effecting in preventing transmission of COVID-19, but the masks do reduce transmission.
“Unfortunately, this virus has a much higher success rate of jumping from one person to the other than many of the other viruses including influenza,” he said. “And there are occasionally people we call superspreaders that, for some reason, they really infect a lot of people, much more than other people do.”
Commissioner Lacy Cruse, 4th District, asked Minns how long he would suggest for the restrictions.
He said to start with a month at the least and to see if the numbers have trended down by then.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to see the time when these numbers go to zero,” he said.
Cruse also asked him to discuss any negative side effects of wearing masks.
Minns said he hasn’t heard about any negative effects of wearing masks. He pointed out that surgeons and other medical workers have worn them for hours and hours a day.
Commission Chair Pete Meitzner, 1st District, asked if the doctor was OK with Sedgwick County youth getting together to have tournaments. Minns said he is just concerned about out-of-state visitors.
Meitzner also had concerns about reducing capacity of some businesses to 50%. He suggested reconvening a cross-section of businesses to discuss some of the measures. He thought Thursday afternoon might be good because that is the day the governor plans to release details of her mask order.
Commissioner Michael O’Donnell, 2nd District, asked about forcing children with developmental disabilities to wear masks or forcing people with underlying medical conditions, like COPD, to wear masks.
Minns said that he believes wearing the mask is still better than getting COVID-19. He also suggested that it may be safer for some people to stay home.
Commissioner David Dennis, 3rd District, asked about the accuracy of some of the tests while Commissioner Jim Howell, 5th District, asked about the delays in getting test results.
Minns acknowledged there have been issues. He said they are looking into them.
“What specifically has you the most concerned?” Howell asked Minns.
“I would say the number of cases per day we’re seeing went much higher than they were three weeks ago, even though our testing number has stayed constant,” said Minns. “So that means there’s more cases in the city and there’s more people spreading it around, giving it to each other.”
The commissioners did not take any action Tuesday. This was a briefing and not their weekly meeting.