Mar 16, 2021 6:23 PM

Public health order being allowed to expire; mask mandate remains

Posted Mar 16, 2021 6:23 PM

By LESLIE EIKLEBERRY
Salina Post

Saline County's COVID-19 related public health order that has placed limits on gatherings will be allowed to expire, however, the county's mask mandate will remain in place for another two weeks.

The public health order that became effective Feb. 22 is set to expire at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday.

Saline County Health Department Director Jason Tiller this morning told Saline County Commissioners that it was his opinion that the public health order could be allowed to expire.

"My opinion is that with the continuing to decrease numbers, also that we did not see any kind of increases after raising those limits to capacities three weeks ago, with the deaths lower, the hospitalizations lower, I think at this point the best thing is to let the public health order expire at that time," Tiller said during this morning's Saline County Commission meeting.

Tiller reported that national, state, and local COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to trend downward.

"We have only had 66 new cases in the last two weeks. Which is a huge improvement to look at when even just two to three months ago, that might have been a single daily count of new cases. And thankfully we've only had one new death in the last two weeks as well," Tiller said during his review of the county's COVID-19 situation prior to his report concerning the public health order.

Tiller also noted that more people will be eligible to be vaccinated in the coming weeks.

"By then end of this week, we expect to have vaccinated 11,000 or more people that live and work in the county. And that will be about 25 percent of the adult population. Right now we're still working on finishing up those Phase 2 priorities. And based off the governor's announcement yesterday of Phase 3 and Phase 4 jointly beginning on March 22, we are starting registration for those phases," Tiller said in his review of the county's COVID-19 situation prior to his report concerning the public health order.

Tiller told commissioners that the 500 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine that the county received are being used for home-bound persons, homeless and hard-to-reach persons, and those in congregant settings.

"That has taken a significant amount of planning to be able to accomplish that at this point with our partners, but I think we're on a pretty good track to be able to have all of that used up," Tiller said of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Although variant cases of COVID-19 are on the rise, none have yet to be reported in Saline County, he said.

Tiller is still recommending, however, that the county's mask mandate remain in place.

"We have talked with our partners and have come up with some recommendations about when to consider either loosening or removing the mask order," Tiller told commissioners.

Those recommendations include the following.

‚óŹA target of 70 percent of the adult population being vaccinated

‚óŹMultiple days without new cases

‚óŹReaching a point where overall vaccine demand is satisfied

"To drop everything at one time I think would be a mistake. If we let the (public health) order expire, we continue to vaccinate people, and as you have seen, more people will be eligible next week, so we'll be able to vaccinate more people and it will just put us in a better position without the mass gathering order. And then when the county commission decides to take some sort of action on the mask order, we will be in a much better position to not see any type of undue consequence from throwing the gates open all at one time," Tiller said.

At the conclusion of Tiller's presentation, the commissioners took no action concerning the mask mandate, so it will remain in place for another two weeks.

In other COVID-19 related business, the commissioners voted 5-0 to approve a request from Michelle Barkley, emergency management director, to redeclare a state of local public health emergency connected to the COVID-19 pandemic. The declaration allows Saline County to submit resource requests to the State of Kansas, continue emergency sheltering, and track expenditures for reimbursement, according to information from the county.