Wichita City Council passes face mask ordinance
By a 4-3 vote, the order will take effect immediately.
WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - After Sedgwick County decided to only recommend the state’s face mask mandate, the city of Wichita took matters into their own hands and passed their own ordinance.
During a four-hour-long meeting Friday afternoon, the city council voted to require face masks in city limits.
Mayor Brandon Whipple, Vice Mayor Cindy Claycomb, Council Member Brandon Johnson and Council Member Becky Tuttle voted in support of the ordinance while Council Members James Clendenin, Jeff Blubaugh and Bryan Frye voted against.
The city’s ordinance is similar to the governor’s, requiring people to wear masks indoors, in most cases, or outdoors where six feet of social distancing cannot be maintained.
The ordinance also has few exceptions. Some exceptions include children five years old or under, persons with medical conditions that prevent wearing a face covering, people who are hearing impaired, eating at a restaurant, and some athletic events.
People and businesses found not in compliance with the ordinance will be fined. A first notice is $25, a second notice is $50, and three or more notices will result in a $100 fine.
Whipple said the focus of the city and police department will be on education and enforcement will only be used as a last resort.
Whipple told Eyewitness News that speaking with the city’s legal department, Wichita officials have the ability to mandate those in city limits follow the governor’s order. He recommendations have not worked leading to a surge in COVID-19 cases, and in order to prevent another shutdown, the order needs the force of law.
“This is a once in a 100-year pandemic that has taken more American lives than anything we’ve faced,” said Whipple.
During the meeting, about a dozen members of the local medical community spoke in favor of making masks mandatory, reflecting on what they’ve seen in their own practices and across the nation.
Pulmonologist Dr. Chloe Steinshouer said, “We have curves that mirror those in Phoenix or Huston, but because we’re a smaller population, our’s are slightly lower in number.”
“If we do not mandate masks and don’t follow the advice, our curves will continue to increase at an exponential rate. We will not be able to return to school. We will not be able to have high school football games. We will not be able to have normal routines and activities,” said pediatrician Dr. Rebecca Reddy, M.D.
Members of the pubic were also in attendance to express their support or opposition with the move.
Breanna Bradley was one of the speaks supporting the move to mandate face coverings. Bradley said she and her husband are both essential workers.
“Science is very clear that if everyone wore a cloth mask when they went out in public, the coronavirus would be nearly stopped in its tracks, and I believe it’s a very simple thing that everyone can do to help protect our community,” said Bradley.
For Bradley, she said part of the concern is her husband and child have a medical condition that puts them more at risk if they contract COVID-19.
“It feels frustrating to have to continue going out into the world and see people being so passive about something that’s so easily remedied,” she said.
Speaking against the mask mandate was Kayla Wilson who said this went too far.
“You ever of deaths by a thousand cuts,” said Wilson. “They’re warning us, if you do this, we don’t do another shutdown but the initial shutdown was a violation of our constitutional rights.”
The move from the city to require face coverings comes even as businesses Friday, July 3 started to make the mandate part of their practices, saying no shoes, no shirt, no mask, sadly no service.
That includes Doo-Dah Diner.
“Do what we can to avoid our staff getting infected or facing another shutdown. That’s our policy and we’re going to stick to it,” said owner Timirie Shibley.
Timirie Shibley, who owns Doo-Dah Diner with her husband, said part of the reason they decided to require masks not just for their employees but customers was at the recommendation of their staff.
Patrons are required to wear a mask while entering and leaving, as well as when they’re moving around the restaurant, especially when six-feet distancing isn’t possible. Once seated, customers can take off their masks. Doo-Dah is asking those who do not want to follow this to respectfully postpone their visit until a time when it’s safe to do so without masks or to use their curbside option, which they also started this week.
“We’re trying and it’s not going to be perfect. We will recognize there are folks with true exemptions to the recommended wearing of masks,” said Shibley. “We’re not here to be the police. We’re really not here for confrontation.”
Doo-Dah Diner only reopened June 30, after three and a half months closed.
“The customers have made it so awesome [to be back] and welcomed us back. Obviously with not big hugs, which has been one of the hardest things for us.”
They’ve reopened with plexiglass between tables and many other precautions in place all to help keep from needing to close again. That’s why they’re making masks a requirement.
“This is our business,” said Shibley. “This is our decision.”
Shibley said while there have been some negative comments, they’ve received a lot of positive feedback for taking this move.
“The mom of one of my teenage hostesses who literally, couldn’t thank me enough for being a leader,” Shibley said. “She knew I was going to get flack for it, and she just really appreciated putting our staff ahead of public opinion.”
In addition to protecting staff, Shibley said it’s also to protect their family.
“[Shibley’s husband Patrick] His mom is in hospice and he got to have a porch visit with her last week for the first time since March without the window pane and a phone call,” said Shibley. “We’re just trying to make sure that he doesn’t get anything. Everybody has their own why for wearing masks or not wearing masks.”
Shibley said what goes a long way right now too is compassion.
“The hospitality industry has truly been the hardest hit of any other industry and there are a lot of restaurants that won’t survive to this time next year,” said Shibley. “I just ask for customers to be graceful; if they see something that could be improved upon because we don’t do this work to try to do it wrong, but there’s a lot of new systems and regulations we just really want to try to follow. We’re just asking for a little bit of compassion all the way around and we’ll give that same compassion to our customers.”
The ordinance comes as the county has seen a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.
Wichita City Council members could vote at a special meeting Friday to follow Kansas Governor Laura Kelly’s executive order, mandating that people wear masks in public within city limits.
This comes after the Sedgwick County Commission voted not to make mask-wearing a requirement, but rather a strong recommendation. Mayor Brandon Whipple clarified Thursday that the Wichita City Council can vote to mandate the governor’s order in the city. Whipple said Wichita has done better than other cities of similar size in containing the COVID-19 pandemic, but Sedgwick County’s mask recommendation doesn’t go far enough.
“Recommendations only blow up numbers, put us in dangerous situations,” Whipple said. “Recommendations have a disastrous impact. No one follows the recommendations.”
The Wichita City Council’s vote is set to happen at a 2 p.m. special meeting Friday. Whipple believes a majority can decide whether or not to implement a mask order. Ahead of Friday afternoon’s vote, he urges Wichitans to voice their opinions, reaching out to their city councilperson.
The meeting will be live-streamed on the City of Wichita’s YouTube Live. A recorded video of the meeting will be available on the city council’s website following the meeting.
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