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Masks required in Douglas Co. again after COVID-19 case record broken

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Published: Jan. 5, 2022 at 2:28 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - After Douglas County saw the highest number of COVID-19 cases reported in a 14-day period, leaders implemented a new public mask mandate for everyone over the age of 2.

On Friday, Jan. 7, Douglas County says an emergency public health order which requires face coverings for everyone 2 years and older inside public spaces will go into effect. It said the move is to help protect community members as COVID-19 cases spike in the region.

As of Jan. 3, Lawrence-Douglas Co. Public Health said there were 1,538 total active cases reported in the county. It said the 14-day moving average for new cases is now at 89 cases per day, which is a record high for the county.

LDCPH said the ongoing impact of the delta variant, along with the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant, as well as the flu, has created challenges for the community and health care providers throughout the county.

“We recognize this pandemic has taken a deep toll and the community is weary; unfortunately, the virus rages on,” Dr. Thomas Marcellino, local health officer, said. “Now is the time we must act to protect our community from a potential crisis.”

LMH Health President and CEO Russ Johnson said he expects inpatient numbers to increase, at least to levels the county has not seen since the beginning of the pandemic, all at a time when resources and staff are sparse.

“Our current emergency room wait times are longer due to patient volume,” he said. “At the same time, the large number of patients hospitalized for COVID and other serious issues are significant, and we are routinely required to hold patients in our emergency department until a staffed bed is available.”

Additionally, Johnson said staffing has been challenged at the hospital as it has been for the entire health care industry.

“Every hospital’s ability to respond in the coming weeks and months will be limited not by supplies or number of beds available for patients, but by the staff members and providers able to care for them,” he said.

“With this in mind, our physicians and hospital leadership support an indoor mask mandate,” Johnson said. “Masking will help slow the spread of COVID, influenza and other respiratory viruses in our community. It also serves to protect our team members, our single most valuable resource at LMH Health.”

LDCPH said the emergency public health order was issued by Marcellino and Douglas Co. Commission Chair Shannon Portillo. The order, recommended by Douglas Co. Unified Command includes the following:

  • Individual mask order - Any person in Douglas Co. is required to wear a mask or face covering when inside or inline to enter any indoor public space, obtaining health care services, waiting for or riding public transportation, or while outdoors and unable to socially distance.
  • Business mask order - All businesses or organizations in the county must require employees, customers, visitors, members or members of the public to wear a mask or face covering when working in any public space, working where food is prepared or packaged, or in any enclosed area where people are present and unable to socially distance.

LDCPH said exemptions to the order include the following:

  • Those with a medical condition, mental health condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering
  • Those who are deaf or hard of hearing
  • Those engaged in religious services, ceremonies or activities
  • Those seated at a restaurant or other establishment that offers food or beverages while actively eating or drinking
  • Those engaged in court-related proceedings

According to the County, the order will remain in effect until Wednesday, Jan. 12, unless otherwise rescinded or modified by the County Commission. Commissioners will discuss the extension of the order during the business meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 12, at the County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. and will be accessible via Zoom.

To read the full public health order, click HERE.

On Jan. 5, LDCPH updated its current numbers and saw 727 new cases reported since Monday, bringing the county’s total active case count up to 1,944. The average daily case count increased to 96.5.

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