Health officer explains restaurant, bar shutdown as he ‘suspects the virus is already in Shawnee County’


(KSNT Photo/James Ryan)

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – A Shawnee County health official explained Thursday morning why he closed down all restaurants, bars and movie theaters in the county without a confirmed positive coronavirus test.

Shawnee County Health Officer Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino elaborated on his late Wednesday night order to close all restaurants, movie theaters, bars and similar businesses. He confirmed there is no positive test for coronavirus in Shawnee County, but said the decision was necessary.

“To be brutally frank, we don’t know if we have this virus or not,” Pezzino said. “The virus has been detected in most counties around us. Do we think we are immune?”

Pezzino said it is better to enact social distancing measures in anticipation of the coronavirus and limit the opportunity for community spread.

“I suspect the virus is already in Shawnee County. We just don’t know,” Pezzino said. “We are in the dark because we can’t test people … If we wait until we detect the cases, it’s too late.”

The health officer acknowledged he is “crippling” some local businesses with the decision to shut down their interiors to the public. Drive-thru and curbside pickup orders are still permitted, so businesses can still operate in some capacity.

“I am probably causing people to lose their jobs, and I know some of these people personally,” Pezzino said. “It breaks my heart.”

Douglas County made a similar decision to shut down restaurants and bars after its health officials announced the county’s first positive coronavirus test.

Topeka Police Chief Bill Cochran also spoke on community safety while quarantine measures are in place after Pezzino.

“Just take a step back, relax, and look after each other,” Cochran said.

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