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Reno County Commission expected to opt-out of mask mandate

Published: Dec. 16, 2020 at 5:31 PM CST
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HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KWCH) - As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue trending upward in Reno County, the county commission is expected to opt-out of locally mandating masks. Over the last 30 days, Reno County reported 47 COVID-19 deaths, marking November as the county’s deadliest month for the pandemic.

The grim milestone comes as Reno County commissioners are expected to vote against a mask order next week.

“We have no information that validates masks decrease the spread of (a) virus, particularly the COVID-19 Chinese virus in a population of people, it doesn’t exist,” said interim Reno County Commissioner Dr. Mark Steffen, one of two on the three-member commission who’s indicated a vote of opposition to locally adopting the state’s mask order.

The Hutchinson News reports Reno County Commissioner Ron Hirst on Tuesday also indicated he wants to opt the county out of the state’s mask ordinance. Hirst told the newspaper his thoughts on the subject aren’t politically motivated and any business that wants to require masks should be allowed to do so.

Still, some who have been sick with COVID-19 wonder why the commission is leaning in the opposite direction of what they think could help to make a difference in the effort to contain the virus.

“I’m just absolutely in shock that we’re in the middle of a pandemic that has killed over 300,000 Americans, and it’s just, just crazy that these two county commissioners, specifically, Dr. Steffen, and Ron Hirst would even be thinking about anything like this. This is just ridiculous,” said Hutchinson resident and COVID-19 survivor Jon Powell.

The current mask mandate in Reno County is set to expire on Friday (Dec. 18) and the county’s health officer plans to issue another health order the same day. However, as the board of health for Reno County, the county commission has the final say.

In her latest briefing Wednesday, Kansa Governor Laura Kelly addressed the situation in Reno County and the commission’s apparent opposition to locally requiring masks in public.

“The research dictates very clearly that masks work,” Kelly said. “Other mitigation efforts add to that. We just need to look at the facts, look at the data,a and make our decisions that way.”

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