County Commission votes to move into Phase One

The Finney County Commission held a special meeting Friday to discuss the county’s reopening plan.

The commission voted 4-1, with commissioner William Clifford dissenting, to enter into Phase One of governor Laura Kelly’s plan to reopen Kansas.

The county will remain in Phase One for two weeks, until May 22, when the commission will meet again to go over data and see if there was an increase in positive cases, and evaluate whether stricter enforcement is necessary or to move into Phase Two.

On May 1, the Finney County Health Department issued an Emergency Public Health Order, extending Governor Laura Kelly’s Stay-At-Home order, which ended on May 3, in Finney County to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The order will end Sunday.

The Emergency Public Health Order was put in place on May 4 after the Finney County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1, with Clifford dissenting, to allow businesses to reopen at their own discretion, while adhering to state mandates, after the governor’s order ended.

Both Colleen Drees, Finney County Health Department director, and Dr. Lindsay Byrnes, Finney County medical director, advised against reopening the county at that meeting as it is seeing a significant increase in positive cases.

As of the morning of May 4 there were 550 total positive cases of COVID-19 within the county.

In the last two weeks the county has seen a 58 percent positivity rate in those who have been tested; the week prior it was 56 percent, Drees said at the meeting Friday.

As of 5:30 p.m. Friday, there were 861 positive cases in Finney County.

Given the data and increase in positive cases, Drees recommended the Stay-At-Home order be extended an additional week to two weeks.

Byrnes concurred that the safest route is to adhere to the guidelines set forth by the administration, the CDC and epidemiologists.

“I think that we need to have actually more regulation about physical distancing among people, but at this time it is my role to make a recommendation to you based on the data, and that's where that's coming from — without influence from prejudice,” she said.

Commissioner Duane Drees said he encourages people to stay at home if that is their choice, but disagrees with the mandatory Stay-At-Home order because he said it’s being ignored by “at best 40 percent” of people.

He said the order is not working, so businesses should be allowed to reopen so that the “small businesses downtown survive.”

“The big box stores will survive, our downtown businessmen are going to be facing bankruptcy. I do strongly believe that they ought to be given the opportunity to survive,” he said. “In the past 10 days every single email or contact I've had, 100 percent has been encouraging businesses to open. Not a single one has come to me requesting that the pandemic shut down maintain.”

Commissioner William Clifford said he has “trouble supporting” moving into Phase One and then reevaluating two weeks later whether to close up again or move forward, given the current medical data.

“We’re opening up (the county) almost as an experiment,” he said.

Clifford said when the county reopens it’s up to the small businesses to enforce the recommendations of masks, physical separation, etc. to protect the public, because if there is a “blow up” of cases, the commission will reverse that decision.

Drees said if the county continues to see an increase in positive cases she recommends the commission enforces stricter restrictions.

“I don’t want to continually go back and forth with the local board of health, again we can only make our best recommendation of how we would like to proceed, and it's up to you,” she said.