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Jackson County loosens rules on outdoor gatherings

By Mike Genet

Starting Oct. 9, Jackson County will permit outdoor gatherings of greater than 100 people, provided certain protocols and an acceptable plan has been submitted to the county.

The updated guidelines, released Friday afternoon, come as the county Health Department faces a lawsuit from the Blue Springs School District about outdoor attendance guidelines, stemming from attendance at football games. 

For all indoor and outdoor sites, organizations planning to host a gathering of more than 100 people must submit a gathering protocol at least 72 hours in advance, and it must be approved by the county and easily accessible to all attendees. Mask wearing, social distancing and other protocols should be in place to limit potential transmission of COVID-19.

Restaurants and bars and smaller businesses can still have up to 50 percent capacity.

A spokesperson for the Health Department confirmed that with the new guidelines, a school theoretically could host a football game with hundreds of people, appropriately spaced apart, in attendance.

“They would need to submit their gathering protocol for approval, and everyone would need to wear masks and maintain social distancing,” spokesperson Kayla Parker said, “but if all that checks out and the county approves their request, they could.”

Prior Jackson County regulations – part of the “Phase 2.5” in reopening plans – allowed up to 50 percent capacity at many indoor facilities, as long as the proper social distancing is possible, but limited outdoor gatherings to 100 people (besides game participants). Given that, a few hundred people could be spaced apart in a gymnasium for an event.

The Blue Springs School District sued the Health Department, specifically Director Bridgette Shaffer, after it hosted a football game at Blue Springs High School, where the Peve Stadium capacity is about 5,000, with a reported 430 people in attendance, and the Health Department then threatened sanctions for future district events. 

High schools in Independence, Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs and elsewhere have otherwise been limiting attendance at football games this season. The Raytown-Raytown South game and William Chrisman-Truman football games were played at Staley High School, where Clay’s County’s guidelines allowed for more attendance.

“Events with greater than 100 attendees can occur with less risk when masks are worn properly and contact is limited between attendees, staff and others,” the Health Department posted on social media. “Gatherings continue to be high-risk activities that have potential to become super spreader events. Organizers and attendees of events, especially those that are most vulnerable, should take the risk of COVID-19 seriously when weighing the decision to attend an event.”