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Decision time for Kansas counties without mask requirements

Counties have until Wednesday to decide the direction they’ll take with Gov. Kelly’s latest mark executive order or be opted-in.
Published: Nov. 22, 2020 at 10:33 PM CST
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KANSAS. (KWCH) - In the next few days, we’re expecting answers from a majority of Kansas counties on how they will respond to Governor Kelly’s latest push for a statewide mask order.

About three-fifths of the state’s counties don’t have a mask order in place. Governor Kelly hopes to shrink that portion of the pie heading into Thanksgiving as counties have to act by Wednesday.

“Ensure that I fulfill my responsibility to create a standard for the state of Kansas to follow but also gives Kansas counties the ownership and flexibility to decide how best to implement,” said Gov. Laura Kelly during a Wednesday press conference announcing the executive order and a public awareness campaign.

Many counties in Kansas have stayed with recommending, not requiring masks.

“We have always encouraged everyone to wear a mask. Keep the social distancing, and we’ve had those in place for several months already. We’ve just encouraged everyone to follow those rules,” said McPherson County Board of Commissioners Chair Keith Becker.

That could change Monday in McPherson County depending on how the Board of County Commissioners acts. They’re set to discuss Governor Kelly’s latest executive order. Locally, the cities of McPherson and Lindsborg already have mask orders in place.

McPherson County will be joined by a number of other counties doing the same before the Wednesday deadline.

Marion County will be one of them Monday. It comes a week after they voted down a county drafted mask ordinance.

Chair of the Marion County County Board of Commissions Jonah Gehring said Sunday he doesn’t think that will be the case this time as they discuss the governor’s order.

“We just need to move forward and just stop worrying about anything else other than hospitals and their capacity and their medical staff getting fatigued. I think we can all get together and agree on that one thing that’s our end goal,” said Marion County Commissioner Jonah Gehring.

He said they had a work session Friday to review what it contained.

“Looks like everyone is pretty much in agreement that this one, this might be the best it can be,” Gehring said.

But counties are continuing to weigh all their options.

“In my opinion, the three options we have right now would be to take no action and let the Governor’s mandate come into effect on Wednesday.,” Kingman County Board of Commissioners Chair John Steffen said, “Another option would be to opt-out and continue with what’ve been recommending.”

Commissioner Steffen said the third is to opt-out but then adopt their own mask requirement or ordinance.

“We’ll be looking at what the numbers are. Our numbers have been steadily climbing like everybody else’s.” Steffen said, “I haven’t seen much difference between counties that have mask mandates and counties who don’t. It doesn’t look like it’s that much difference. In fact, I think there’s some places that I think it’s actually more since they’ve been wearing masks.”

Kansas has been setting records for the number of new cases the last few weeks.

Research from the CDC, released Nov. 20, shows in Kansas, the counties that issued a mask order in early July saw a slight decrease in the net new cases of COVID-19 through the rest of July and August compared to June. New cases per 100,000 people were down about six percent.

In counties where mask orders were not imposed, those areas saw a 100 percent increase in new cases per 100,000 people in July through August compared to June.

In Ellis County, a special meeting has also been called for Monday morning.

The chair of that county’s Board of Commissioners, Butch Schlyer saying in a statement Sunday: “The Board of Ellis County Commissioners are having a special session tomorrow morning at 7 am to discuss the governor’s executive order. I will be supporting the order and will attempt to steer the discussion towards that goal.”

Barton and Harper Counties also have meetings scheduled for Monday where the order will be discussed.

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