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Kansas governor slows reopening; limits to go into late June

Coronavirus in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly on Thursday slowed down the reopening of Kansas’ economy, ordering bars and bowling alleys to remain closed through the end of the month and keeping some coronavirus-inspired restrictions in place until near the end of June.

She is calling this new executive order Phase 1.5.

“Ad Astra: A Plan to Reopen Kansas” has been rewritten to include Phase 1.5. If you click on the document, you will find it starting on page 12.

Kelly’s order is likely to stir strong opposition in the Republican-controlled Legislature. GOP lawmakers have complained that she is moving too slowly to get people back to work after lifting a stay at home order May 4, and they have disliked the different treatment depending on the kinds of businesses.

Top Republican legislators already have moved aggressively to take control of the reopening by extending a disaster declaration Kelly issued only through Memorial Day, May 25, to give lawmakers a chance to rewrite their own law guiding the process. State law gives Kelly broad power under an emergency declaration, and she had wanted the current one extended into mid-June.

The governor had expected to lift some restrictions Monday, but her new order modifies that plan to reflect her administration’s concern that the spread of the novel coronavirus is not yet decreasing. A limit on public gatherings of 10 or fewer people will remain in place, rather than being increased to 30 on Monday.

Key Phase 1.5 highlights:

  • Mass gatherings of more than 10 individuals continue to be prohibited.
  • Nail salons, barber shops, hair salons, tanning salons, tattoo parlors and other personal service businesses where close contact cannot be avoided may open, but only for pre-scheduled appointments or online check-in.
  • Fitness centers and health clubs may open, but in-person group classes may not occur and locker rooms must be closed except as necessary to use restroom facilities.
  • In-person commencement or graduation ceremonies may occur with no more than 10 individuals in a room, gymnasium, or facility at one time as long as 6-foot social distancing is maintained. Outdoor drive-through graduation ceremonies during which no more than 10 individuals are in the same area outside of their vehicles at a time (i.e. school administration, graduate, family members, etc.) are allowed. 

Under Phase 1.5, the following, unless they are repurposed for use in an essential function under the Kansas Essential Function Framework, shall remain closed to the public:

  • Bars and night clubs, excluding already operating curbside and carryout services
  • Non-tribal Casinos
  • Theaters, museums, and other indoor leisure spaces (trampoline parks, arcades, etc.)
  • Community centers
  • Outdoor and indoor large entertainment venues with capacity of 2,000 or more
  • Fairs, festivals, carnivals, parades
  • Swimming pools (other than backyard pools)
  • Organized sports facilities, sports tournaments, sports games, and sports practices
  • Summer camps.

The changes mean that public gatherings of up to 30 people won’t be allowed until June 1, and gatherings of up to 90 people won’t be allowed until June 15. The last restrictions wouldn’t be lifted until June 29 – two weeks later than previously planned.

Meanwhile, an eastern Kansas county is defending a policy that directs business owners to collect information about their customers as an effort to help trace the contacts of infected people.

Attorneys for Linn County, its county commission and its health director filed a response Thursday to a federal lawsuit from two business operators. The county’s attorneys said a May 1 order by the local health director does not violate rights against unreasonable searches that are protected by the U.S. Constitution.

The county said in its filing that the business operators wrongly suggest that the county would make blanket demands for information when the local health department would ask only for data about specific customers in contact with infected people over the previous month.

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