Riley County commission to review Local Health Order No. 16

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Local Health Order No. 16 will be reviewed by the Riley County commission on Monday.
The request was made originally by the executive director of the Aggieville Business Association last week.  During Thursday’s meeting, Attorney Jeremy Platt and Aggieville Board President Ryan Bramhall asked the commission to rescind the order saying it targeted Aggieville businesses.
Platt says the order is unconstitutional in his opinion and has a negative impact on the local businesses.  Platt has spoken with businesses owners in both Aggieville and Downtown Manhattan who say the regulations already in place were already being followed.
“Then Order No. 16 comes out and moves the goal posts without any numbers to back up why we are doing this,” says Platt.
Platt is referring to the order’s purpose of using preventative measures with K-State students returning soon.  Platt also claims the order is going to end in lawsuits because records of employees of bars and restaurants are being sent to the Riley County Police Department.
Health Department Director Julie Gibbs responded to these claims saying 27% of the county’s total positive cases came from bars and restaurants, specifically in Aggieville.  The data being used is coming from contact tracing of patients showing either employees of bars and restaurants, or patrons who were in Aggieville.
“As far as targeting, we’re actually looking at the high risk behavior that goes along with being in a bar, which is specifically why we looked at just staying seated instead standing around the bars or dance floors,” says Gibbs.
Gibbs says the CDC and Kansas Department of Health and Environment have listed bars as high risk areas for COVID.  As for the the employee information being given to RCPD, Gibbs says that is just not happening.
Platt also brought up the application process for mass gatherings in the order.  He says the application process has no criteria and makes it hard for people to plan ahead.  He also claims one applicant was denied because the committee did not like the event.  Gibbs responded saying their is criteria listed on the application, as applicants must answer a series of questions.  As for the permit denial, she says the committee does not work that way.
Bramhall says with current restrictions, he is lucky if his business lasts for one more month.
“There’s a lot of us in town that have been putting up with it.  We know the virus is dangerous, but we still have to make a living and we’re gonna put a lot of people out of business if we don’t get any control,” says Bramhall. “Last month alone, I did what I do in weekend for the whole month.  That absolutely doesn’t pay the bills.”
Bramhall says he and other business owners are not being greedy; this is their livelihood.  Commissioner Marvin Rodriguez says he understands the frustrations coming from Bramhall, having had his own business go under in 2006.
“I don’t think that the cure for the pandemic should be worse than the pandemic.  I’ll go along with the fact that we need to re-look at this order,” says Rodriguez.
Commissioner Ron Wells says he agreed with Bramhall about the criteria for the permit.  He believes that K-State Athletics will come to the commission asking for an exemption for the football games.  Wells says they need to keep the process fair.
“At this point right now, I’m not comfortable with Order No. 16.  I think we need to sit down with our health department director and think this thing through a little bit more in detail,” says Wells.
Commissioner John Ford says he is not in favor of rescinding the order at this time.  However, he would like the commission and a business aspect to be more involved in the health order process.  This will help with consistency and have more knowledge in advance of what is all included.
Ford says restrictions will still need to be in place to cover the safety of the community, and that they will need to find a way to balance functionality for businesses and safety for the people.
The commission will return on Monday to have a more detailed discussion.
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Sam Hennigh

County government and school board reporter. 2016 Kansas State University graduate in Journalism and Mass Communications. Kansas born and raised.

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