Riley County Health Department graph

In this chart provided by the Riley County Health Department, total COVID-19 cases have slowed in the past few weeks. The red line indicates the falling percentage of residents who have tested positive for the virus. The weeks ending April 25, May 2, May 9 and May 16 are shown on the graph.

Riley County’s cumulative COVID-19 case count has been flat for the past few weeks — an encouraging sign that social distancing restrictions are working — but as more businesses start to reopen, health precautions and recommendations will be key keeping it that way, officials said Friday.

Since the first county case was reported at the end of March, the Riley County Health Department has reported 60 total confirmed cases of the disease. But since the beginning of May, only 11 new cases have been confirmed, even as testing capacity ramps up.

“We’ve done a great job of social distancing in this community,” public health officer Julie Gibbs said.

The health department also keeps track of the percentage of positive cases compared to total testing on a weekly basis, and that figure has gone down from over 10% a month ago to around 1% this week.

Gov. Laura Kelly on Thursday eased on the state’s plan to reopen the university as new COVID-19 cases around the state haven’t slowed as much as initially hoped. Under the new phase 1.5, places like barbershops, salons, tattoo parlors, gyms and fitness centers will be allowed to reopen Monday with proper health precautions in place. Bars and night clubs remain closed through at least the end of the month, as well as sports venues and public swimming pools.

On Friday, Gibbs issued a supplementary local health order, which keeps in place some restrictions on county businesses. Restaurants must still close by 10 p.m. to differentiate them from bars, Gibbs said, although the order lifts the county’s restriction capping daycares to 10 children.

Additionally, county government offices will start to open to the public Monday with proper social distancing precautions and appointment-based operations.

Bob Copple, Ascension Via Christi president and co-chair of the Manhattan Area Recovery Task Force, said the community has done a good job in keeping the COVID-19 curve flat over the past few weeks.

“The thing we want to keep an eye on and watch for is — we’ve seen this in other localities and countries, where they’ve flattened the curve,” he said. “But as changes were made, COVID accelerated again. There are also examples of people making community changes with restrictions, and it’s staying flat. That’s obviously where we want to be in our situation. So far, we’re seeing that, it’s just a matter of watching it.”

He cautioned that the community still faces many of the same health risks it did at the beginning of the pandemic, especially if the disease were to flare up again.

“We’re just a little bit lucky in that we don’t have any current large clusters or outbreaks in the immediate community,” he said. “That gives you reassurance, that it’s a bit safer to do things and be out around other people again. We certainly encourage maintaining six feet, social distancing, wearing masks — that’s what our advice is, and those things make it safer, but the risks are still the same.”