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Pawnee County eases COVID-19 quarantine restrictions
Pawnee county commission on facebook 10-2020
This screenshot of a Facebook livestream shows Pawnee County commissioners discussing quarantine orders Monday afternoon, Oct. 12. From left: Deborah Lewis, Bob Rein Jr. and Philip Hammeke.

LARNED — The Pawnee County Commission voted 2-1 Monday to ease guidelines that have resulted in quarantine orders, especially for students at Fort Larned USD 495.

Commissioner Philip Hammeke made the motion, seconded by chairman Bob Rein Jr., that non-family members who are considered to have had close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 will no longer be issued an order to quarantine for 14 days, if the person who tested positive and the person in close contact were both wearing two-ply masks during the contact. The motion was retroactive, so some Larned students who were on a 14-day suspension may now be free to return to school and school activities.

Commissioner Deborah Lewis voted against the motion, saying she wanted more time to study the issue. She wanted input from stakeholders such as medical professionals and school officials.

The commissioners indicated they will address the issue again at next Monday’s regular meeting.

They held the quarantine discussion at 2 p.m. Monday, with several community members attending in person. Few wore masks but they were spread out in the meeting room. Others watched the meeting live on the Pawnee County Facebook page. One of the people monitoring the page said between 200 and 250 people were watching the two-hour meeting online at times. The recording of the meeting can be found on the Pawnee County Facebook page.

Pawnee County Attorney Douglas McNett said he was at the meeting as a private citizen. While he normally represents the commission as the county counselor, he stepped out of that role for the purpose of this issue last week when he decided to fight for his teenage daughter’s right to play at the Regional Tennis meet.

He explained in a post last Saturday on Facebook:

“Some of you are aware, my daughter, like so many other children was notified by the school nurse after school on Wednesday (Oct. 7) she was considered a ‘close contact’ of another student that had tested positive and as such she could not return to school for two weeks. The unintended consequence of that determination is that it would have prevented her from competing today at the Regional Tennis meeting (i.e., lose her opportunity at a chance to go to State). My daughter was distraught as she had a goal (and the ability) of going to State all four years of high school.”

McNett said he intended to fight, adding, “my role of dad superseded my role as county counselor.”

On Thursday morning he filed an action in Pawnee County District Court requesting a temporary restraining order against the school district, health department and local health officer Cheryl Hoberecht.

There was still a chance that his daughter could play if the family received approval from the Kansas State High School Activity Association, so Saturday morning they headed to the tournament in Scott City.

“Alas this tale does not have a happy ending,” McNett posted. “At 10:30 a.m. KSHSAA ruled my daughter was ineligible. We weren’t given an official reason why, but think it had to do with the fact the school was required to notify them that she had possibly been exposed.”

When the commission met Monday to discuss quarantine rules, Rein said, “all the events last week brought this to the forefront of the community.” However, he said, “it was my intention to have this meeting before the events of last week.” He said it hasn’t been clear whether Kansas Department of Health and Environment guidelines are rules or recommendations that the county can augment. “I still am unclear whether we have the legal authority to do that,” he said.

Because the crowd at the meeting was “manageable,” Rein said he would allow people to speak for about 2 minutes each. “Everyone who wants can speak their piece.”

Residents expressed frustration but said they understood that Hoberecht and other county officials have a tough job. Deputy Eli Makings commented that he served 197 quarantine orders last month.

Larned school board member Charles “Buddy” Tabler also made comments and said the board would be discussing the commission’s decision when it met Monday evening.