It took less than 30 minutes for the Cowley County commissioners to opt out of Gov. Laura Kelly's executive order that Kansans wear face masks in public, in a unanimous vote Friday morning.
What the mandate says
Kelly signed the order Thursday morning and it took effect today. The order requires Kansans to wear masks in indoor settings in most cases and outdoors if social distancing cannot be maintained.
Exceptions to those required to wear the masks are children five years old and under, persons with medical conditions that prevent wearing a face covering, people who are hearing impaired, eating at a restaurant, and some athletic events.
People who are inside or in line to enter indoor spaces, receiving healthcare services, using public transit or ride sharing services, and outside and unable to maintain six feet of distance must wear a face mask.
All businesses must require all employees and visitors to wear a face mask in public spaces and in an enclosed area where they are unable to maintain six feet of distance.
“The evidence could not be clearer — wearing a mask is not only safe, but it is necessary to avoid another shutdown,” the Democratic governor told reporters this week.
Commission chair Wayne Wilt and member Bob Voegele were on hand at the courthouse while vice chair Alan Groom Zoomed in for the meeting.
The county's Public Health Officer Thomas Langer did not speak at the meeting and commissioners did not mention any recommendations coming from the health department.
All three commissioners said they had had numerous calls from residents since the governor announced her plan earlier this week. Almost all of the calls, they said, were against the county's going along with it.
"I even had calls from some people who wear masks all the time, and they said don't do it," Wilt said. "They believe people should have a choice about wearing masks."
Wilt said anyone who feels safer wearing a mask is welcome to do so.
Asked after the meeting if they had been wearing a mask or if they planned to wear a mask, both Wilt and Voegele said they hadn't been wearing one and didn't intend to wear one even though they are both over 60, the age at which the national Centers for Disease Control says the dangers associated with COVID-19 begin to get most serious.
As of Friday, infections since the pandemic began in Cowley Country stood at 73, with 22 active cases; 1,650 tests for the virus have been done.
State Sen. Larry Alley and Rep. Cheryl Helmer were also present for the meeting. Alley confirmed what he'd said in an earlier CourierTraveler story — he did not wear a mask because no one had proven that the masks could prevent the coronavirus.
He tried wearing one at one point, he said, but the elastic over his ear displaced his hearing aid. He also said he has high blood pressure and when he tried wearing the mask, his blood pressure rose.
Helmer said she had worn one in a store and she found it hard to breathe.
Helmer said she was moved by pleas from area hairdressers who wrote of being without income for three months while their businesses were closed.
Alley said he was glad the commissioners took the action they did because the legislature had agreed that the local people know their counties best. "This is about freedom," Alley said.
Wyandotte County and Douglas County already require masks. A number of other counties have already opted out of the mandate including Sedgwick, Harvey, Butler and Sumner counties.
In all cases, the counties are "strongly encouraging" people to wear the masks, but they will not be required to do so.
In contrast to the counties' choices not to require masks, all Kansas district and appeals courts are now required to have people wear masks in courtrooms and any spaces pertaining to the courts.
"The Supreme Court order requires all court employees, judicial officers, and members of the public to wear a face covering in any courtroom, court office, or other facility used for a court proceeding. Face coverings must also be worn in any nonpublic court office unless physical shields are in place," according to a press release from the Kansas Supreme Court.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.