Leavenworth County won’t follow governor’s mandatory mask order
Leavenworth County officials will continue to encourage and recommend that the county’s residents continue to wear masks when social distancing is not possible.
But the county is opting out of Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order for mandatory mask-wearing, which is set to start Friday.
County Commissioners voted, 5-0, to opt out of the order and follow recommendations from Leavenworth County Health Officer Jamie Miller during a special meeting Thursday night at the Leavenworth County Courthouse.
County Health Officer Jamie Miller told the commissioners that while he and Dr. Kathleen McBratney, medical director for the Leavenworth County Health Department, that masks are seen as a device to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, they did not recommend enforcing Kelly’s mandate.
“The mandate and those type of things are not necessarily favored as we’re looking for compliance with individuals in our community,” Miller said. “It’s really been what we've been after all along with all the other health orders and what our community has done.”
Miller said LCHD wouldn’t be able to take on the any tasks on the enforcement side or handle any additional call volumes with questions about the mask mandate.
“Ours is really, at the The Health Department, on the educational side getting information out on the science behind the mask, what the best practices are and really that’s what we’re trying to focus on and stay on track with,” Miller said, referring to the department’s main focus when it comes to masks.
All that said, Miller still reiterated the importance of masks at this stage of the pandemic.
“We are still hoping that people understand that a mask scientifically is a good device as a mitigation tool,” he said. “It’s one of the few tools non-pharmaceudically within our realms right at the moment to slow this down and slow down the pandemic.”
Commissioner Vicky Kaaz, who along with fellow Commissioner Mike Stieben participated in the meeting remotely, urged residents to be responsible and wear masks.
“I just wanted to reiterate that out of respect for others and being responsible, that it is essential, for community members, if there are no health reasons for them not to wear a mask, they need to wear a mask; it’s science,” Kaaz said. “This isn’t a political issue, this is science.”
Recent statute allows for decisions on COVID-19 regulations to ultimately be made at the county level among county commissioners and local health officers.
Douglas County, for instance made masks mandatory Wednesday and will continue with Phase 3 of Kelly’s Ad Astra reopening plan for another two weeks in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. In addition, bars there will be closed for the next two weeks.
Leavenworth County Commissioner Doug Smith noted that Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt also provided direction in a release Thursday.
According to the memo, Schmidt notes that under House Bill 2016, individual counties may elect to adopt provisions that are “less stringent” than a governor’s order. If an individual county has done so, then the governor’s emergency order may not be enforced in that county, even by a civil lawsuit. The new law also authorizes the attorney general to bring enforcement actions, according to the memo.
“The attorney general’s office will defer to the decisions of local county and district attorneys and has no plans to bring our own enforcement actions simply for not wearing a mask,” Schmidt said. “I think the better approach is to leave any enforcement to local authorities who know their communities best and to give Kansans information and encouragement and trust them to make wise decisions.
“So here’s what I encourage: Be safe on this Independence Day weekend, use common sense and caution to keep yourself and others healthy, heed the advice of the CDC and other public health experts, and wear a mask for now whenever you’re in a public setting and cannot maintain a safe distance from other people.”
There are certain exemptions when it comes to mask-wearing in Kelly’s executive order, 12 to be exact, including anyone 5 years old or younger, anyone who is deaf or hard of hearing, or someone communicating with anyone who is hearing impaired when the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication, those whose face coverings would create a risk to their work per work safety guidelines and athletes engaged in organized sports activities that allow athletes to maintain a 6-foot distance from others with only infrequent of incidental moments of closer proximity.
Commissioner Chad Schimke noted that even though the county would not make masks mandatory, individual businesses have the right to require them.
Commissioner Stieben said that metrics with Leavenworth County COVID-19 numbers didn’t warrant any mandates on mask wearing.
LCHD reported Wednesday that the county had nine new positive community cases, six additional community recoveries and an additional hospitalization since Monday.
The county now is monitoring 38 active community cases as of Wednesday. There also are 11 active cases involving Lansing Correctional Facility inmates.
Overall, there have been 215 community recoveries, another 833 at LCF and 67 at the Grossman Center.
There have been 35 total hospitalizations, two of which are current.
Overall, the county has experienced 1,171 confirmed cases, 256 of which have been community cases. LCF 848 of those and Grossman Center 67. In total, there have been 6,211 negative results.
Leavenworth County has experienced three community deaths and four involving LCF inmates.
Stieben also blasted Kelly for her leadership.
He said the executive order provided guidance at the last minute with the holiday weekend approaching.
“For her to issue this order at such a late order is really unconscionable,” Stieben said.
He also called the moves “detrimental to public health policy” and said he was “very disappointed” with what he perceived as little guidance in what the state’s plan is for any additional lock downs or any plans for how public schools might operate in the fall.
According to Tonganoxie USD 464, however, some of those details likely will be discussed soon.
School district Superintendent Loren Feldkamp released information on social media Wednesday about the district’s timeline with preparing for the 2020-21 school year, including Kansas Department of Education Zoom meetings with superintendents statewide July 9 and a KSDE announcement of the Playbook to Reopen Kansas Schools July 10.
The calendar will continue to move ahead with a new school year on the horizon. As the county continues to work through the pandemic alongside the rest of the nation, Kaaz also wanted to recognize those locally who have been wearing masks in public.
“I just also want to thank those individuals in our county who have voluntarily elected to use the face masks when in public in order to not spread the virus to others,” Kaaz said. “Because they could have it and not know it.”