Commissioners exempt Osage County from governor’s statewide mask mandate

County health department reports 120 active cases

LYNDON, Kan. – In a social media post this afternoon, the Osage County Health Department announced that Osage County commissioners had exempted the county from Gov. Laura Kelly’s statewide emergency order issued last week requiring Kansans to wear face masks in most public situations. Kelly had issued the order due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases statewide, saying Kansas is facing a crisis with recent “worrying” spikes in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and stretching the healthcare system’s ability to handle the influx of patients.

Kelly’s order noted that “wearing a face covering in public is the easiest and most effective way to protect each other, ease the burden on our overburdened healthcare system, and help keep our businesses open and our economy running …”

Kelly’s order gave county commissioners until this week to decide to comply with the order, adopt their own order, or exempt the county from the order.

In a resolution approved at today’s meeting of the Osage County Commission, and posted on Osage County’s website, county commissioners ordered Osage County exempt from the governor’s order, citing three reasons:

“Enforcement of the governor’s executive order mandating masks would be difficult, if not impossible and would be an unreasonable strain on county resources such as PPE and local law enforcement.

“Broad ranging recommendations on safety precautions to fight the potential spread of COVID-19 better serve the public’s overall interests than governmental mandates.

“Opting out of the governor’s statewide executive order gives Osage County flexibility going forward to make recommendations or mandates, if necessary, that best protect the health and safety of Osage County, Kansas.”

While opting out of the governor’s mask order, the commissioners adopted a mask protocol for the county, signed by Osage County Health Director Jackie Patterson, and Fred Diver, commissioner and county board of health chairman.

The county’s mask protocol does not mandate the use of masks, “but recognizes the significance of utilizing them in order to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 in the population. Therefore, masks are not mandated, but are strongly recommended in Osage County whenever in any public space indoors, or outside when at least six feet social distancing cannot be maintained.”

The Osage County Board of Health’s protocol also echoes the commissioners’ reluctance to enforce a mask mandate. “While we recognize the significance of face coverings in mitigating the transmission of COVID-19, we find a mandate inherently unenforceable at the county level,” the health board protocol says.

The county’s protocol gives businesses, schools, and other entities the opportunity to enforce mask mandates in those settings, whether public or private. The protocol specifically allows those entities to choose to require patrons, customers, employees, or other people to wear face coverings when in attendance to an event, inside a business, while working, or when engaged in any activity within that entity.

The protocols also encourage social distancing in public settings, good hygiene, and staying home if ill. Unnecessary gatherings are discouraged.

The county’s mask protocol also specifically describes the types of face coverings that are not mandated to be worn as “… a covering of the nose and mouth that is secured to the head with ties, straps, or loops over the cars or is simply wrapped around the lower face. A face covering can be made of a variety of synthetic and natural fabrics, including cotton, silk, or linen. Ideally, a face covering has two or more layers. A face covering may be factory-made, sewn by hand, or can be improvised from household items such as scarfs, bandanas, T-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels.”

The county’s mask protocol will be effective at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020.

The commissioner’s action to exempt the county from a mask mandate comes as the Kansas Department of Health and Environment reports today, Nov. 23, Osage County has tallied 470 cases since the pandemic hit Kansas, and Osage County Health Department reports 120 active cases in the county. Six deaths in the county have been attributed to the virus. State data indicates 285 cases have been diagnosed in the county since Nov. 1 until today.

Osage County commissioners also exempted the county from the governor’s first mask order in July, reasoning COVID-19 cases remained low at that time in Osage County with little if any evidence of community spread. On July 1, Osage County had recorded 15 total cases but totaled 39 by June 30.

For the July mask order exemption, the commissioners also reasoned that enforcement of the governor’s order would be difficult and would be an unreasonable strain on county resources such as PPE and local law enforcement, and broad ranging recommendations on safety precautions to fight the potential spread of COVID-19 better serve the public’s overall interests than Governmental mandates.

In the governor’s latest order, she points to her responsibility as governor “to provide for and ensure the health, safety, security, and welfare of the people of the State of Kansas” as a reason for the mask order, saying “increasing the wearing of face coverings is necessary to promote and secure the safety and protection of the civilian population.”

In the county commissioners’ order today, they said that opting out of the governor’s statewide executive order “gives Osage County flexibility going forward to make recommendations or mandates, if necessary, that best protect the health and safety of Osage County.”

See related story: Commissioners exempt Osage County from governor’s emergency order

Contact us: Osage County News | P.O. Box 62, Lyndon, KS 66451 | [email protected] | 785-828-4994 | Powered by Osage County, Kansas