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Sedgwick County among Kansas counties strongly recommending, but not ordering public to wear masks

Published: Jul. 1, 2020 at 7:00 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 2, 2020 at 5:56 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Update: A mask mandate will not be imposed in Sedgwick County Friday. County commissioners voted 3 to 2 Thursday evening to opt-out of the governor’s statewide mandate and instead strongly recommend that residents wear masks.

The commission said the issue is more about education and less about enforcement, but the county’s local health officer, Dr. Garold Minns, said something needs to be put in place as the numbers in Sedgwick County rise. He cited Thursday as the highest percentage of positive results since May 2. Sedgwick County is now at 598 active cases of COVID-19.

“I think we do need something to help the public understand we do need a mask. It’s probably the most innocuous painless relatively speaking intervention we can do,” said Dr. Minns. “It does seem to be effective and have the least impact.”

Sedgwick County’s decision follows suit with several surrounding counties that took a similar approach Thursday. Harvey, Butler, and several rural counties in the state encouraged people to wear masks to safeguard against COVID-19 but rescinded Governor Laura Kelly’s mandate to require it.

Commissioners addressed the issue after seeing details of the governor’s order, made official Thursday, and gathering feedback from local business leaders. While the governor’s directive on wearing masks is a mandate, enforcement is decided locally. This is where counties have the say on whether or not wearing a mask in public is a legal requirement.

Harvey County explained while commissioners support and encourage people to wear masks, they determined that mandating the public to do so “was not an effective and productive measure.”

”The right thing to do for your family, your friends, your neighbors, is to wear a face mask when you’re in public. We know masks can help prevent exposure to COVID-19,” said Harvey County Commission Chair Randy Hague. “While the public has a right to choose, we hope they make the right choice, which is to wear a mask.”

Similarly, ahead of the Sedgwick County Commission’s vote Thursday, the sheriff’s office and Wichita Police Department encouraged people to wear masks in public but said officers would not be out detaining people for failing to do so.

Several rural Kansas counties take a similar approach, clarifying that there is not a local requirement to wear a mask.

Ahead of the governor’s order taking effect Friday, Douglas and Wyandotte counties released their own new health orders, making masks mandatory at all indoor public spaces. The orders include businesses, workplaces, and public facilities. Douglas County, which includes Lawrence and the University of Kansas, also ordered bars to close for two weeks as COVID-19 numbers in the county rise.

Sedgwick County Commissioners will hold a special meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday to discuss Governor Kelly’s Executive Order #20-52, requiring face masks or other face coverings in public.

Residents have until 3 p.m. today to submit comments to Commissioners via the public comment form at www.sedgwickcounty.org or by emailing communications@sedgwick.gov.

The meeting will be live-streamed on Sedgwick County Government’s YouTube Live and Facebook Live platforms. A recorded video of the meeting will be available on the Sedgwick County website following the meeting.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

We’ll learn more about Kansas Governor Laura Kelly’s maks order Thursday as she takes it to the state finance council. While the governor does have some authority based on what she believes is best for the state, it’s up to counties to make decisions regarding enforcement for themselves.

The Sedgwick County Commission did not address the order at its meeting Wednesday, opting to wait to discuss how to move forward until after Kelly gives more details Thursday and after commissioners speak with the Sedgwick County business community.

“I think that’s unfair to our population, to our people for us to not essentially get in front of this thing and make whatever the policy is going to be,” Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell said. “Let’s get in front of that so it’s one change, not two.”

Commissioners say they’ll need to hear other opinions from Sedgwick County’s health officer, as well as the business community before making any decisions.

Tuesday morning, Sedgwick County Health Officer Garold Minns gave three recommendations to commissioners, including to consider the mask mandate.

Dr. Mark Mosley with Wesley Medical Center says consideration about wearing a mask shouldn’t be political.

“It’s just a mask. The purpose of this is to prevent suffering and death and if you can’t get behind something that is designed to prevent suffering and death, then you really need to rethink what you’re making the mask means,” he said.

Many ask if commissioners do move forward with a mask mandate in Sedgwick County, could someone get in legal trouble for not wearing one? Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter said that’s unlikely to happen.

“From a law enforcement perspective, there’s nothing for us to enforce,” he said. “It’s not a criminal act. It could be a civil penalty based upon the statute. And I refuse to have our deputies, especially in the climate and the culture that we’re in right now, go out and stop and detain somebody.”

Eyewitness News also spoke with Wichita police about the mask issue. The department said officers won’t be out looking for violators. Instead, they’re going to educate people on what the governor’s order states.

Copyright 2020 KWCH. All rights reserved.

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