County opts out of mask order

Chad Frey

Saying Kansans must act to slow the spread of the coronavirus in communities, Gov. Laura Kelly on Thursday morning issued the executive order on masks she outlined earlier in the week.

However, Mcpherson county will not observe the order following action taken by the McPherson County Commission hours after Kelly’s signing of the order and announcement.

Under statutes passed by the legislature and signed by Kelly earlier this year, counties can opt out of executive health orders if the county commission deems the order unnecessary after meeting with the county health department and doing research.

“McPherson County will not enforce or adopt Executive Order 20-52 mandating masks, per the McPherson County Board of Health (County Commissioners),” said Shalei Shea, director of the McPherson County Health Department. “However, it is still McPherson County Health Department’s strong recommendation residents continue to voluntarily wear facemasks when social distancing cannot be maintained. I wear my mask to protect you, please wear your mask to protect me.”

According to a release by the Health Department on Thursday, there were 81 cases of COVID-19 identified in the county.

“McPherson County continues to have a tremendous uptake in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases,” the release said. “An alarming amount of cases are asymptomatic, meaning they do not have any signs or symptoms. A portion of these positive cases report attending gatherings at local lakes, parties, or traveling sport tournaments while contagious.”

Kelly’s order requiring masks to be worn in public spaces and places where social distancing can’t be maintained took effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday in counties that did not opt out. Other counties in the area also opting out were Harvey County, Reno County and Saline County.

For those counties that did not opt out, the order t will remain in place until it is rescinded or the statewide state of disaster emergency expires, whichever is earlier.

“The last few months have presented many new challenges for Kansans, and all of us want to return to our normal lives and routines,” Kelly said in a news release. “Unfortunately, we have seen a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths across our state and our country. We must act.

“Viruses don’t stop at county lines. This order doesn’t change where you can go or what you can do. But wearing a mask is a simple and effective way to keep Kansans healthy and keep Kansas open for business.”

The order requires Kansans to wear masks inside all public spaces — including workplace environments — and in situations where the recommended 6 feet of social distance can’t be maintained.

Children under the age of 5, those with medical conditions and others specifically outlined in the order are exempt from requirements. The order specifically notes that children 2 and under shouldn’t wear masks because of the risk of suffocation.

Others who are exempt from the order include those who are deaf or have difficulty communicating; restaurant patrons, provided they can adhere to social-distancing guidelines; athletes participating in a socially-distanced sporting activity; and people involved in court-related proceedings.

— Chad Frey, McPherson Sentinel, contributed to this report.

Instructions on how to make a mask can be found at the McPherson Sentinel website.