As neighbors issue mandates, Johnson County says it will rely on ‘shared sense of responsibility’ on face masks

Dozens of people gathered for an event at Park Place in Leawood over the weekend, many without masks. The county says it is relying on a "shared sense of responsibility" on face masks instead of joining Wyandotte and Jackson Counties to make it mandatory. Photo via Twitter.

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Public health orders mandating that people wear masks when they are in public places go into effect today in Jackson and Wyandotte Counties. But health officials here say Johnson County will continue to rely on a “shared sense of responsibility” to wear masks instead of issuing an order like its neighbors.

The county announced on its social media channels it would “strongly encourage residents to wear masks” but that “We are not requiring masks at this time.”

That decision prompted pushback from some Johnson County residents, who say that not enough people are voluntarily adhering to the recommendation. Kathy Cook, a Shawnee resident, started a petition on Change.org that’s received more than 1,500 signatures thus far imploring the county to require people to wear face masks when they are in indoor government facilities or businesses.

In a message to members of the Board of County Commissioners, Cook said that issuing an order on face masks could help prevent the need for another round of business closures.

“Why are we waiting until we have to close some businesses over this? We have all seen what has happened in Texas and Florida, that is what will eventually happen here. Only we can prevent it if we act NOW!” Cook wrote. “You have been public servants for decades in this county, please don’t let your legacy be that you had the opportunity to save lives and keep businesses open and instead chose to ignore the science and sacrifice the community you helped to build.”

Asked about the county’s thinking on the matter, Johnson County Health and Environment Director Sanmi Areola, PhD, provided the following statement:

“First and foremost, masks do work. JCDHE will continue to strongly encourage its residents to wear masks. However we are not requiring masks at this time. We are working to ensure hospital resources are not overwhelmed and will continue to monitor the situation on a daily basis. Johnson County residents have been diligent in following public health directives for containing the spread of COVID-19. At this time, we will rely on the shared sense of responsibility to ourselves and others in the community as the primary basis for public health response to this pandemic.”

The county reminds residents of the following steps people can take to stem the spread of the virus:

  • The best way to protect yourself, and others, is to wear a mask when out in public, try and stay 6 feet away from other individuals, wash your hands when soap and water is available – and, when it’s not, use a hand sanitizer.
  • Whenever it’s not possible to be more than 6 feet apart from other people, with whom you are not living — for an extended amount of time — you should be wearing a mask, even in an outdoor space.
  • There is ventilation when you are outdoors, but, if you are packed in with people, for an extended amount of time, we strongly recommend you wear a mask.