The Lyon County Commission passed a new public health order that will continue the mask mandate indefinitely while removing mass gathering restrictions during its action session Thursday morning.
The decision was made based upon the recommendations of Lyon County Public Health Officer Dr. Ladun Oyenuga, who addressed the commission on Thursday.
“Where we are [with] our active cases, our transmission rates in Lyon County, we’re still in the Orange Zone … meaning that we’re not in an all-clear yet,” Oyenuga said. “We still have active hospitalizations presently in Lyon County. And we know that spring break just happened last week, so typically we don’t see the results of these kinds of gatherings until about two weeks after the whole gathering, so we’re still being very wary, being very precautious in this period with what might have happened over spring break.
“So in view of this and where we are presently in Lyon County, my recommendation will be for us to still continue to wear masks … even if you have been fully vaccinated.”
The mask mandate will continue without penalty for those who violate it. While mass gathering restrictions were removed, the commission still strongly recommended that gatherings not exceed 100 people or 40% of the facility’s capacity and that masks be worn.
“This is for people to understand: just because we give them the opportunity to open up, they still should take precautions,” said Commissioner Scott Briggs. “This thing’s not over. We’re getting there. … Get the vaccination. Keep vigilant of what we’re doing and in two months we could be a long ways down the road on this if people will just take precautions. They can still have the freedom they need, but let’s take precautions to make sure we get through it.”
While previous public health orders have had an end date, the one that became effective upon signing on Thursday will continue until amended, suspended or rescinded by the Lyon County Commission.
The mask mandate will remain in place until the county reaches the herd immunity threshold of 70% of the Lyon County population. Herd immunity comprises those who have been vaccinated, those who have already contracted and recovered from COVID-19 and those who are too young to be vaccinated.
“We can maybe take another look at it and there’s always hope to be done in a month or two,” said Commission Chairman Rollie Martin.
Renee Hively of Lyon County Public Health reported that vaccination efforts in the county continue at a steady pace. She said that other vaccine providers in the area — including, for the first time, Graves — will soon begin receiving more vaccine doses.
Of concern was the stark disparity in the percentage of the county’s Hispanic population and the percentage of the county’s population that has been vaccinated. As of Thursday morning, only 510 people who self-identified as Hispanic had received the vaccine.
Hively said that LCPH is having internal conversations about this matter and how best to address it. Currently, an interpreter is at the vaccine clinics and asks those who self-identify as Hispanic whether their family and friends have received or are planning to receive the vaccine. If an individual says no, the interpreter asks why.
“A lot of it is just fear, so we really need to dispel those myths, those beliefs, that fear of getting that vaccine,” Hively said. “I did notice a slight uptick when we were vaccinating the Tyson population, meat-packing plants. They started adding more people in to come get vaccinated once they saw that their peers were getting vaccinated. So maybe as we move along forward and more people get vaccinated, that fear will disperse, but there’s still a lot of work there to be done to be able to reach out to those populations.”
Chief Judge Merlin G. Wheeler of the Lyon County District Court announced that the courthouse would resume jury trials beginning May 3.
Originally, the county court had planned to begin jury trials back in November; however, the infection rates at the time were concerning and so that was further delayed.
While active work has been done to mediate or make plea agreements to resolve cases before going to trial, the court has still built up a backlog of some 60 cases requiring a jury.
Wheeler indicated that the backlog was not particularly concerning, as only about two out of every 10 cases actually proceeds all the way to trial.
“Once we begin the jury trial process and people start understanding that the case is going to trial, we will start to see a lot more disposition without trial,” Wheeler said.
For the weeks of May 3 and May 10, the court will group together all misdemeanor cases and try them in the order in which they came. Following that period, trial of felony cases will begin with the emphasis placed on those who are currently in custody in the hope of reducing the jail population.
The court will implement mitigation strategies for prospective jurors, including limiting the number of individuals summoned at one time and opening more space for jury deliberations.
“Our desire is to ensure the safety of everybody that’s involved in that process,” Wheeler said. “... As you all know, jurors don’t always come willingly. The last thing I want to do is bring a juror in and have them exposed to pick up a virus or infection as a result of the process, so we’re taking every conceivable step that we know.”
The County Commission also:
Approved a motion to allow the county to pay $4,300 to consult with engineers from RVW Inc. to investigate the feasibility of bringing broadband access to all areas of Lyon County.
Approved a quote not to exceed $10,000 from Professional Engineering Consultants for consultation to gain a permit to replace truss bridge 943.9-532.0. Through the new Programmatic Agreement Procedure, the county must work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Kansas State History Preservation Office to receive a permit that will allow the truss bridge to be replaced.
Approved a resolution to vacate a portion of Road 40 west of Road H.
Directed Shane Brunner and Janice Arb of Lyon County Area Transit to submit a grant request for Kansas Department of Transportation funding to expand its security camera technology and find a new facility so that the bus barn and the office can be in the same location. LCAT would request $13,000 for the security camera technology and $450,000 for the new facility, with the county being liable for 20%. Submitting the grant request would be step one of a multi-step process that could be aborted if other solutions became available. Commissioners directed LCAT to also investigate other solutions in addition to submitting a grant request.