After a setback that called for the implementation of Phase 1.5 earlier this month, Kansans learned on Tuesday that they can cruise into Phase 2 earlier than what they thought.
In fact, Governor Laura Kelly's announcement Tuesday brought the entire scope of "Ad Astra: A Plan to Reopen Kansas" into fast forward with Phase 2 set into action May 22, Phase 3 landing on June 8 and potentially Phase 3 or "Phase Out" of restrictions by June 22.
That is IF the positive COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths don't take a turn for the worse, according to Gov. Kelly.
""...all of my administration's decision-making regarding our reopening efforts has been driven by data - not dates," she announced on Tuesday. "...data now indicates we are seeing a more consistent decline in hospitalizations, COVID-19-related deaths and a consistent decrease in disease spread."
Based on this data, Gov. Kelly determined it was time to implement a modified Phase 2 that loosened restrictions in some areas, but still kept mass gatherings to 15 and less. In Phase 1.5, Kansans saw some restrictions let up - such as salons, fitness centers and other personal services businesses were allowed to open with restrictions, but theaters, museums and other indoor leisure spaces were not.
So what does this mean for our businesses, summer recreation and social gatherings as summer peeks around the corner at us and we are closing in on the first big recreational weekend of the summer.
It means we can have a little fun, open some additional businesses, resume life semi-normally, but still proceed with caution.
At a glance, Phase 2 allows libraries, community centers, organized sports facilities, tournaments and practices to begin with some exceptions. This is big news to organizers of summer recreational activities, along with some area municipalities - some which have chosen to reopen and others which have chosen to remain closed.
Some area summer recreation associations have continued to gather teams for practices and some organized games in a few cities that are still allowing fields to be open. Some communities - such as Hiawatha is allowing practices only and they have closed the pool for the summer.
Guidelines may have loosened a bit to allow these activities to happen, but during Phase 2 there are still restrictions of not allowing more than 15 individuals in one location who are unable to maintain 6 feet of distance "with only infrequent or incidental moments of closer proximity." According to the protocol in Gov. Kelly's plan, this does not limit the total occupancy of a facility, but requires that facilities limit mass gatherings in specific areas - such as locker rooms, dugouts, entrances, lobbies.
Under these guidelines, outdoor and indoor large entertainment venues with capacity of 2,000 or more are not allowed to open and fairs, festivals, carnivals, parades and summer camps are restricted still in addition to swimming pools.
Tele-commuting for work is still recommended and non-essential travel is not recommended. High risk individuals are still cautioned to limit public interactions. Bars and night clubs, excluding already operating curbside and carryout are not allowed to open yet.
As long as Kansas considers to stay stable, Phase 3 comes along June 8 with business and activity restrictions lifted considerably, but with mass gatherings of no more than 45 individuals allowed. On-site staffing for all businesses is not restricted during this phase and non-essential travel may resume.
While it may seem the doors are wide open at this time, there will be some restrictions and of course counties and municipalities can instill stricter guidelines if decided upon. Businesses could still have some personal restrictions on a case-by-case basis, including requiring social distancing and masks.
It is still recommended to have individuals 6 feet apart for outdoor activities, with only infrequent or incidental moments of closer proximity. Social gatherings of 45 are recommended as guidelines in both indoor and outdoor settings, with only infrequent or incidental moments of closeness, such as games, receptions, trade shows, etc.
During this phase, high-risk individuals may resume public interactions, but continue practicing public physical distancing and minimize exposure to large settings.
Non-essential travel is allowed, but those traveling are still encouraged to follow KDHE travel and quarantine guideline for travel to high-risk areas. Businesses are recommended to reduce telework and bringing employees back to work in an office setting - avoiding large gatherings and continuing to keep employee work stations 6 feet apart. Any employees exhibiting symptoms should be required to stay home and call their health care provider.
Visits to long-term care and correctional facilities has been strictly enforced during the past two months, however under Phase 3, facilities may begin to gradually reinstate visits, with proper screening measures in place.
Businesses are still encouraged to keep 6 feet between consumers - individuals or groups. Restaurants or dining establishments may meet this requirement by using physical barriers sufficient to prevent virus spread between seated customers or groups of seated customers. Businesses are required to follow cleaning guidelines as outlined on www.covid.ks.gov.
Still, groups of more than 45 individuals in one location are to be avoided, including at tables, entrances, locker rooms, dug outs, break rooms, checkouts and more.
During Phase 3, educational facilities are still subject to EO 20-07 pertaining to school closures, however up to 45 students, instructors or staff ma be present for normal operations that could include summer school. K-12 facilities should continue to follow the guidelines of the continuous Learning Plan developed by the Kansas State Department of Education as implemented in March.
And lastly, but certainly not least in the eyes of the majority of Kansans who have been ready to get back to normal life, is Phase 4 - or "Phase Out" of the the majority of restrictions, with only a few guidelines still in place as "Stay-At-Home" orders will be lifted and mass gathering limits are significantly relaxed.
There will be no recommended restriction on the number for mass gatherings, however it's advised to maintain social distance where applicable. Individuals are encouraged to remain home if sick and maintain good personal hygiene. Employers are asked to follow any additional guidance for employees that is released and traffic is at this time unrestricted.
Once the state reaches Phase 4 - set to occur June 22, the governor is expected to issue additional guidelines to explain what health metrics will trigger an elimination of all statewide restrictions. However local government entities still have the authority to impose equal or more stringent restrictions during this phase. Businesses can implement additional social distancing guidelines as well.
High-risk individuals are still encouraged to take proper precautions, whether avoiding public places or wearing a mask and possibly limit travel that could take them to higher-risk areas.
Watch Gov. Laura Kelly's press conferences on her Facebook site, and go to www.covid.ks.gov for updated news releases and more information on her "Ad Astra" plan.