Citing the fact that the CDC still considers Johnson County an area of high transmission of the disease — along with noting the support of the county health department — the council nearly unanimously approved extending Prairie Village’s mask order until Oct. 31.
The original mask mandate would have expired on Sept. 30.
Prairie Village was the first Johnson County city to enact its own mask mandate amid this summer’s surge of cases spurred by the Delta variant, and still is one of the only ones, along with Roeland Park, to require masks in most indoor public settings.
Johnson County remains the only “Core 4” government in the Kansas City metro without a broader countywide mask order in place.
On Monday, Prairie Village Mayor Eric Mikkelson expressed disappointment in the county for not taking more concerted action in the face of the Delta variant.
While he called both the county government and health department “fantastic,” Mikkelson said he feels “there’s been a bit of an abdication leaving this to a city that doesn’t have its own health department.”
“I see the shaking of heads that that’s a widely held sentiment that we shouldn’t be having to do this, but it falls on us to have these tough decisions because of where we’re at,” Mikkelson said.
‘Not that big of a deal’
Still, Councilmember Terrence Gallagher said he has witnessed a “shocking” number of people not wearing masks inside Prairie Village businesses, even after the original mask order went into effect Aug. 24.
While he said he supports mask-wearing himself, Gallagher asked his fellow councilmembers to explain why they felt it was important that Prairie Village have a mask mandate, when it appears hard to enforce.
Councilmember Tucker Poling responded that he thinks there has been a high rate of compliance with the ordinance compared to other areas of the county where it’s strongly recommended and not mandated.
Poling said while 100% of residents and visitors may not comply, overall it creates a safer environment.
Similarly, Councilmember Jori Nelson said it’s protecting residents — and wearing masks isn’t a tall ask.
“Masks work, it’s not that big of a deal,” Nelson said. “Schools are doing it all day. Children are doing it, adults can do it, too. It’s not that big of a deal.”
Councilmember Bonnie Limbird echoed Gallagher’s observations about compliance issues, and asked if signage could be more descriptive and state that masks are required.
City Administrator Wes Jordan said staff has received calls about people not wearing masks, but didn’t know if it was because signage wasn’t clear enough.
Jordan said city staff can discuss signage improvements this week. (Roeland Park recently bought more signage after some businesses there had expressed reservations over trying to enforce mask orders themselves. That city’s mask order is set to expire Oct. 19.)
The Prairie Village City Council approved the mask mandate extension in an 11-1 vote, with Councilmember Sheila Myers in opposition.
Myers did not give a reason why she voted in opposition, though she also opposed the original mandate at the Aug. 16 meeting.
The city council is planning on reviewing the mask mandate at its Oct. 4 meeting and is able to repeal the mandate prior to the Oct. 31 extension.
A move to hybrid meetings
Masks weren’t the only pandemic-related topic of discussion in Prairie Village on Monday.
The city council also discussed moving to a hybrid meeting model, which will allow both the public and the governing body to either attend in-person or participate virtually.
Prairie Village’s governing body is believed to be one of the last in Johnson County to still be holding remote-only meetings.
Under the plan approved Monday, hybrid meetings will allow up to 15 people, aside from the governing body and city staff members, inside city council chambers.
That number accounts for social distancing, city officials said.
Councilmember Chad Herring said he misses the in-person interactions with constituents and thinks it’s time to get back to that.
Still, Herring said he sees a weakness in the plan: the councilmembers sitting behind the dais.
“The members of the council are really close to each other on the dais,” Herring said. “I think it’s fine, honestly, if all of us are masked, and I know that the policy currently is that everyone in the building will be masked. I trust our fellow councilmembers at the moment are going to be masked. Councils change, I don’t know how long this ordinance is going to be in effect. I could see some tensions there.”
The city council unanimously approved the move to hybrid meetings.
The first hybrid city council meeting will be held on Oct. 4.