As COVID cases soar in Platte County
mid what is described as an exploding number of cases, the Platte County Health Department Board of Trustees voted to join the City of Kansas City and Clay County in adopting tighter guidelines to aid in mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
The new order will take effect in the Platte County Health Department jurisdiction on Monday, Nov. 23. The health department jurisdiction covers areas of Platte County that are not within the City of Kansas City.
Area health directors feel it is important for neighboring entities to have a similar approach throughout the metro.
Mary Jo Vernon, director of the Platte County Health Department, said in the early days of the pandemic in the spring local health officials received criticism for actions because the virus wasn’t as prevalent locally as in the metro area. That’s no longer the case, she said.
“Our numbers are doubling and tripling, so it is just as bad (in Platte County as it is in Kansas City),” Vernon said at Tuesday night’s meeting.
The 14-day rolling average number of cases in Platte County has jumped to 546 as of Tuesday. That is a huge leap from 368 just 10 days earlier.
The number of cases is “completely out of control,” Dan Luebbert, deputy director of the health department, told The Landmark Wednesday morning.
“People need to understand we are imploring them to do these things,” Vernon said. “Early on, we (the local health department) were scoffed at and made fun of. Well, here we are. Chief medical officers from 12 Kansas City metro hospitals are begging the public to do more limited measures.”
Vernon’s reference is likely to, among other things, criticism the health department received from Platte County commissioners. On May 4 the county commission held a three-hour meeting with several speakers sharing the commissioners feelings about the health order. The three-hour session, complete with clapping, cheering and no adherence to an announced time limit per speaker, turned into a roast of the health department.
In discussion Tuesday night, Vernon pushed for the board to adopt the updated measures. Trustees Paula Willmarth and Kathy Wright also spoke in support. Trustees Cathy Hill and Kent Jackson were less receptive but eventually voted in favor of adopting the new guidelines. One board member, Teresa Hills, was absent.
Cathy Hill gave the most pushback, at one point saying about the updated order: “I think it has some major issues.” Jackson said he agreed it had issues.
But when Willmarth asked her, “What do you suggest, Cathy?” Hill did not have an answer. “I wish I had that answer,” Hill responded.
“In absence of an answer, I think we are well advised to go with what the rest of the region is doing,” Willmarth responded, “which is what Mary Jo and Dan are giving us tonight.”
Willmarth added: “I think the first orders we had, when we had that stay at home order, that was impressive in what it did to get this virus under control. But then everybody went nuts, saying the health department was going overboard. Because of severe pressure from the community we started opening up and opening up a little bit more and reached the point where we are now.”
Willmarth continued: “This (public health) is our responsibility. We are trying to keep the public safe and secure. If we have to go steps further than what we’re dealing with tonight, we very well may have to do that.”
“None of us want to be accused of draconian measures,” Vernon said “But we have people who won’t answer the phone, won’t tell us who their contacts are. How’s that working out for us?”
The decision was eventually approved 4-0 by board members, though with Hill saying she was voting yes “because we need to be consistent with other counties, I don’t agree with it” and Jackson saying he has “the same reservations” as Hill.
Some of the highlights of the new order approved by the Platte County Health Department include:
1. Restaurants, taverns, and all other venues, including public and private or membership-only event spaces, serving food and drink indoors shall limit the number of occupants to no more than 50 percent of building occupancy, and shall close at 10 p.m. Indoor and outdoor patrons must be seated, and masked at all times except when actively eating or drinking. Indoor and outdoor parties are limited to 10 or fewer persons and parties shall be spaced with no less than six feet of distance between themselves and individuals from any other parties.
2. Masks must be worn at all indoor spaces with more than one person per room or barrier-divided space and outdoor spaces where social distancing of at least six feet cannot be maintained, except where further exceptions, if any, are approved by the director of public health.
3. Gyms, fitness, and recreational centers shall be limited to no more than 50 percent capacity and be subject to all indoor and outdoor rules within this Order, including the requirement that all patrons wear masks indoors at all times and maintain social distancing of not less than six feet.
4. Business operations generally open to the public and operating in a publicly accessible capacity where six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained during the provision of service and not described elsewhere in this order shall maintain six feet of distance between areas of service, such as tables, booths, or stations in addition to the wearing of a face covering or mask.
1. Unless otherwise provided by this Order, all indoor gatherings are limited to a maximum of ten (10) people. Gatherings are groups of individuals, who are not members of the same household, congregated together for a common or coordinated social, community, or leisure purpose. This prohibition includes planned and spontaneous gatherings as well as public and private, including membership- required, gatherings. Gatherings are permitted with 10 or fewer persons in one place, subject to physical distancing requirements. Prohibited gatherings do not include non-event-based regular commercial, nonprofit, or educational activity by workers, students, or customers of businesses.
2. Gatherings of more than 10 persons may take place only with the approval of the director of public health after submission, review, and approval of a plan to mitigate the potential spread of infectious disease. The infectious disease preapproval requirement covers all gatherings of 10 or more persons, including, but not limited to, celebrations, concerts, sporting events with spectators, receptions, private parties, lectures, or life milestone events. Venues may submit a plan for preapproval of all gatherings if plans will be applied consistently despite a change in individual patrons present.
To read the complete order, go to https://plattecountyhealthmo.municipalone.com/files/documents/PublicHealthOrder202011171318080103111820AM.pdf