Ellis Co. phases in limits at Schenk, Unrein buildings

Margaret Allen

Starting Monday, Ellis County will limit to 50 people any wedding receptions, meetings and other big gatherings inside its popular Unrein and Schenk rental buildings on the Ellis County Fair Grounds.

Starting Sept. 1, the county is canceling all indoor mass gatherings at the two multi-purpose buildings.

“Our county health officer recommended on Monday that we begin restricting mass gatherings at county-owned buildings,” confirmed Ellis County Administrator J.D. Cox to The Hays Daily News.

“This only applies to county-owned buildings,” Cox said. “We had a couple of outbreaks as a result of mass gatherings at those buildings.”

“I know people put tons of time and effort and money into these events,” said Ellis County Health Services director Jason Kennedy in an interview. “So my intent was to be cognizant of that and to give people some time and advance notification. I know a couple weeks or a month doesn’t make enough notice for weddings, but we did want to provide some notification to people so that they could make other arrangements or make notifications.”

County Fair Grounds representatives began calling people this week to notify them of the booking cancellations from September on.

“As we get into flu season and adding in other viruses with COVID, we will continue to see this mass gathering become a problem, we will continue to see super-spreader type events. So the intent was to get ahead of that,” Kennedy said. “These buildings are booked pretty much year-around so this is to give appropriate notification and really to give everybody as much early notice as we can.”

Kennedy said cases have already come out of mass gatherings at the buildings.

“It’s a great time for us to show the public that if we’re going to ask you to do it, we need to be able to do it ourselves,” he said. “So this is my intent, to say the county is taking these proactive measures to protect the citizens of Ellis County. We would love the citizens and private businesses of Ellis County to take some measures to also further that protection.”

As of Wednesday, Ellis County has eight new COVID-19 cases since Monday. That brings the total of active cases to 35, and the total so far since record-keeping began in mid-March to 127, according to new numbers released Wednesday by the health department.

Kennedy is recommending to the Ellis County Commission that the two county-owned indoor venues follow a timetable that limits, and then gradually cancels, mass gatherings.

According to the timetable, the county allows full gatherings from now until Aug. 3, but encourage organizers to limit the number to less than 50 and requires a list of attendees with a seating chart.

From Aug. 3 until Aug. 17, Kennedy recommends the county require a 50-person maximum limit, with a list of attendees and a seating chart.

From Aug. 17 to Aug. 31, the county is highly encouraging organizers to reschedule events to next year, and requiring a 50-person limit, and a list of attendees with a seating chart.

For Sept. 1 on, the county is canceling all indoor mass gatherings on the county-owned property.

Kennedy defined a mass gathering as one where people who don’t live together cannot keep a 6-foot distance from others, not including infrequent or incidental proximity.

Cox said the Ellis County Commissioners will take up the timetable recommendations at their regularly scheduled 5 p.m. meeting Monday in the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main. Meanwhile, Cox said, steps have already begun to let people know they should reschedule events from Sept. 1 on.

“I am sorry we are having to do this, but hopefully the phase-in approach will reduce the severity of the impact,” said Cox.

The county’s two large multi-purpose buildings are popular venues for wedding receptions, dances, conferences, large corporate meetings and other big events.

Two of the largest event spaces in Ellis County, the Schenk building is 6,600-square-foot, and the Unrein Family Building is 7,500-square-foot.

Connected by Deutschefest Hall, which seats 80 people, the Unrein and Schenk can be rented as one large unit also. Like that, it can hold 1,200 seats and tables, according to the elliscountyfair.com web site.

The health department reports the county’s COVID-19 numbers every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on its web site at www.ellisco.net/693/Covid-19-Portal.

Kennedy’s Wednesday report showed there are no Ellis County residents currently hospitalized with the virus.

So far, 92 people have recovered from it, said his report. There have been 2,449 people test negative.

Ellis County had one death, earlier this month.