For now, governor’s order in effect for Sedgwick County despite mask decision

Published: Mar. 25, 2021 at 7:42 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The original executive order from Kansas Governor Laura Kelly that requires masks in all public places is in effect through next Wednesday (March 31). With that came confusion for Sedgwick County commissioners following their decision this week to drop the mask mandate locally, recommending, but not requiring the measure meant to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Despite that decision from the county, the state order supersedes the local rule and at least through next Wednesday, the public mask requirement continues in Sedgwick County.

In a Facebook post addressing the issue, Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell said the county did not realize when it rescinded its local health order that the governor’s statewide order would automatically take effect. The statewide mask order expires Wednesday, but Kelly said she will reissue it. That means unless Sedgwick County votes to opt out, people in the county will be required to wear masks in public.

“Every once in a while we get thrown an unexpected knuckleball,” Howell said of the confusion with the state order and how it pertains to the county’s decision this week. “(Thursday), our legal staff discovered the latest Kansas executive order that became effective on (Nov. 25) and expires on (March 31) at midnight. . This order mandates everyone must wear a face mask in all public places. This order only applies to counties without a local health order that mandates masks, that is unless the county would consult with the Local Health Officer and then make findings and then pass a resolution to rescind the Executive Order for that county. We did not do this last November because we had a health order that mandated masks. Yesterday, when Gov. Kelly announced that she signed (Senate Bill 40), she stated that she planned to issue a new executive order on 4/1/21 “because all of the existing orders have been rescinded when she signed SB40” (paraphrased). I am not sure the governor or the legislature realized the state’s Executive Order would suddenly be applicable to a county where their local health order was rescinded or just nullified when SB-40 became law. The county certainly intended to lift all orders but we did not know about this until (Thursday).”

On April 1, when Kelly is expected to issue a new executive order on masks, Howell said it may only be suggestions.

“But if it is a mandate, then the legislature will kill it,” Howell said. “Even if they did not kill it (which they will), then we would likely just opt out again.”

Howell described the situation as “a technical setback.”

“But whether people interpret the mask order being lifted yesterday or in six days, those of you that want to wear a mask, please do. Those of you that moved into a no-mask world, there are no penalties and no enforcement and after (March 31), this error will be only for the history books,” he said.

On Thursday, Eyewitness News heard from Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple who said it’s too early for people in Wichita to stop wearing masks.

“Frankly, here in Wichita, we are doing better than every comparable city. We are protecting our people, working together to stomp out COVID, and we have to keep moving forward, regardless of the games politicians in Topeka play,” Whipple said.

Whipple said people in Wichita should continue to wear masks until more adults have been vaccinated.

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