Without a vote, county commissioners allow JoCo mask order to extend into November

Three new members are joining the Johnson County Commission this month, pledging a renewed tone of civility. The board has been riven by intense debates in recent months over the county's pandemic response. File photo.

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The much-debated mask order for Johnson County was quietly allowed to stand Thursday without a vote from the county commission.

Commissioners heard from around 20 people before the meeting, almost all of whom spoke passionately against the order that face masks be worn in indoor public spaces. But the item was not voted upon because none of the commissioners requested it be put on the agenda, said Chairman Ed Eilert.

The meeting followed the Oct. 7 approval of another extension of Gov. Laura Kelly’s emergency declaration. County commissions can opt out of her order or adopt less restrictive measures. Without a Johnson County vote, though, the mask order stays in effect until the Kelly’s runs out Nov. 15.

After some fireworks at past meetings, both the commission meeting and the State Finance Council’s approval of Kelly’s order seemed subdued. The finance council, a group of statehouse leaders dominated by Republicans, extended the emergency declaration without much fanfare, according to published accounts.

The mask order was allowed to stand without a vote from commissioners. Mike Brown, pictured in a file photo, has insisted on voting on the mask order in the past but did not bring the item up this time.

While past debates have sometimes been contentious, the county commission was equally tame. Commissioner Mike Brown, who has been a leading skeptic of state and local mask mandates, has insisted on votes in the past but did not bring the item up this time. Brown has not responded to the Post for a comment.

Turnout for public comments on the mandate has become a monthly event at the commission, with the lobby outside the hearing room filling up with speakers, many of whom object to the rule. But there were fewer this time than last month, when around 60 showed up.

Residents chime in

Those who did speak objected to masks on a wide range of grounds. Several doubted the data public health officials use to justify the masks, saying healthy people shouldn’t be required to wear them.

“The idea that healthy people are guilty of killing others simply by breathing is the greatest con in the history of humanity,” said Jacia Phillips of Olathe.

Health groups nationwide have supported the use of wearing masks to slow the spread of COVID-19. Centers for Disease control director Dr. Robert R. Redfield called face coverings “one of the most powerful weapons we have” to stop and slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Others called the data and mask order a “sham,” a “charade “and “soft totalitarianism.”

“You can choose to end this meaningless mandate, but the fact of the matter is the fear is still going to remain,” said Joey Kramer, a county resident. “There’s a lot of people scared but I’m not going to let that stop me.”

Only one speaker, Cassie Woolworth of Olathe, supported the mandates. Public health officials have consistently said widespread use of masks, social distancing and hygiene slows the spread of the coronavirus.

“The mask mandate is only a problem because politics got involved. If the people who will not wear masks would wear masks for two weeks – two—we could get this under control. The irony here is they are the ones who are keeping us masked,” she said.

Later in the meeting, county Public Health Director Dr. Sanmi Areola said the transmission rate in the county is somewhat flat, with a fourteen-day moving average of 6.1 percent positive results. However, more concerning is the fact that use of intensive care beds is on the rise and hospitalizations are up in other parts of the metro area.

Eilert said many people are frustrated by the continued precautions, but “I continue to rely on our local medical experts.”