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Johnson County commissioners approve changes to emergency health order

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Posted at 7:42 PM, Nov 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-13 23:21:12-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — After a six-hour Johnson County Board of Commissioners meeting Friday marked by bickering and blistering public comments, a new emergency order to help better manage the COVID-19 pandemic passed.

Effective Monday, a new range of orders go into effect after a 4-3 vote by commissioners.

The commissioners listened as health experts described the dire situation the county is facing as COVID-19 continues its relentless spread.

Hospitals will soon be unable to accept patients for routine procedures, because their beds will be filled with COVID-19 patients, health officials warned.

School district leaders told commissioners they want to keep schools open, but staffing shortages may mean a return to remote learning.

The Blue Valley School District announced Friday that middle and high school students will return to distance learning from Nov. 30 to Dec. 22. Early childhood and elementary students will continue in full-time, in-person learning, according to the statement.

Restaurant and bar owners made emotional pleas to commissioners to let them decide what's best for their businesses. Most said the shutdowns and restrictions on capacity put in place last spring made it nearly impossible to survive.

Despite those pleas, the new order requires all bars, nightclubs, restaurants or other businesses licensed to sell alcohol for on-premises consumption to close by midnight.

Those businesses also must stay closed for a minimum of 4 hours, the order says.

Carryout, drive-thru and delivery service for food and beverages may continue after midnight, but customers aren't allowed inside those establishments.

The order also limits attendance at all recreational and youth organized sports tournaments, games, practices and related events to two attendees per participant.

Those events also will be subject to the county's physical distancing and mass gathering rules, which limit attendance to 50 people or 50% of capacity, whichever is smaller.

College and high school events sanctioned by the Kansas State High School Activities Association and/or school board are not required to follow those orders, but school activities are "strongly encouraged to abide by them at a minimum."

Fairs, festivals, carnivals, parades and other similar events are banned and entertainment venues with a capacity greater than 2,000 may not host events during time covered by the order.

Political protests are excluded but subject to social distancing.

Churches, day care facilities, schools and courts are not subject to the gathering limitations.

With contentious back-and-forth right up to the end of the six-hour meeting, the commissioners voted 4-3 to adopt the new emergency order, which takes effect at midnight Monday and shall remain in effect through Jan. 31.

Businesses that can't abide by social distancing (nail salons, dentists, tattoo parlors, hair stylists, barbers, etc.) must wear masks and should see clients by appointment and using online or text messaging check-in to reduce contact.

Fitness center locker rooms must be closed, except if necessary to provide restroom access.