Kansas Capitol

State Capitol building in Topeka

Some counties may change their minds and agree to implement the governor’s mask mandate.

Miami County is not among them.

Gov. Laura Kelly asked counties that did not adopt her statewide mask mandate to reconsider their decision. She made the appeal during her press briefing Wednesday, Oct. 28.

Miami County was among more than 80 counties that did not adopt her mask order in July. At their regular meeting the same day, county commissioners showed no interest in reconsidering their decision when Chairman Rob Roberts brought up the governor’s meeting with key legislators.

Kelly said during her press briefing Wednesday she called the bipartisan meeting to try and gain support for a statewide mask requirement.

“As you know, yesterday (Tuesday, Oct. 27) I brought together a bipartisan group of legislators to ask whether they would support my efforts to call a special session for emergency legislation to implement a statewide mask requirement,” Kelly said in the briefing. “I convened the meeting because, as we have discussed previously, case rates and hospitalizations are spiking in counties that opted out of my July mask order, and today Kansas surpassed 1,000 total COVID-19 deaths.”

The governor attempted to put the death toll into context.

“The state did not reach 500 COVID deaths until September, roughly six months after the pandemic began,” Kelly told reporters. “It took a little over six weeks for another 500 Kansans to die.”

Kelly called her meeting with legislators productive.

“In response, Republican leaders asked if — before calling a special session — I would consider a strategy of reaching out to local leaders to implement their own mask requirements,” Kelly said. “I agreed, with the stipulation that legislative leaders, in conjunction with their caucuses, reach out with me to county and city leadership, as well as stakeholder groups, and that we move as quickly as possible.

“We can’t afford to wait another moment to begin this process,” she said.

Chairman Roberts and other commissioners were expedient in discussing the governor’s request. Because of their regular meeting schedule, commissioners met the day after Kelly met with legislative leaders, and within 24 hours of the governor calling for counties and municipalities to voluntarily implement her mask order.

“There are some 80 counties (of the 105 in the state) who had the authority and did not agree with that mask mandate — Miami County is one of them,” Roberts said Wednesday. “Based on reports that came out yesterday, the governor and Legislature did not come to terms with forcing the mask mandate but will be asking each county if there is interest in their county to institute a mask mandate.

“And so I would like to offer to the Commission if anyone or any group of people would like to revisit the decision we made several months ago,” he said.

For the audience, Roberts refreshed their memory on what the commission discussed when the governor sought to impose the mask mandate in July.

“We did not do a mandatory mask mandate, but we strongly encouraged our citizens to wear masks where it’s appropriate, in the appropriate settings,” Roberts said. “Is there any commissioner that would like to revisit that decision?”

None of the five commissioners indicated a desire to revisit the issue.

“I would encourage our citizens to continue doing the very best they can to protect their family, their children, their parents, their grandparents,” Roberts said. “Masks is one method of doing that, keeping your hands sanitized often, (limiting) crowd exposure and of course keeping your distance from one and other helps to keep that spread down. There’s no guarantee — obviously the virus has its own field of direction.

“I think all county commissioners would support that citizens do their very best to take care of themselves and their families,” Roberts concluded.

The other four commissioners agreed with Roberts’ statement.

Two municipalities in the county — Paola and Osawatomie — did adopt a mask mandate.

Louisburg, in lockstep with the County Commission’s decision, did not approve a mask ordinance.

Kelly told reporters health officials continue to research COVID-19 mitigation strategies.

“We are learning more every day about the effectiveness of COVID-19 mitigation strategies, and public health guidelines — especially mask use,” Kelly said. “A study conducted by researchers at the University of Kansas found that counties with mask mandates have effectively stopped virus transmission from increasing.

“Counties with no mandate have seen infection rates climb,” she said.

Kelly said hospitals — particularly in our rural areas — continue to see increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients, putting a strain on bed capacity and staff.

The governor indicated she would continue to push for a statewide mask effort.

“If we are unable to convince communities to voluntarily implement a mask mandate, I will move expeditiously to find another way to implement a statewide mask requirement,” Kelly said.

News Editor Doug Carder can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or doug.carder@miconews.com.

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