The latest COVID-19 statistics for Cowley County show that 81.4 percent of the cases so far have occurred within the Arkansas City-area zip code. But there are no plans to discuss a mask ordinance in Ark City, according to two elected officials reached Wednesday.
The 67005 zip code includes Ark City, Parkerfield and the Silverdale community. To date, 96 of the 118 cases countywide have occurred within that area, according to the City-Cowley County Health Department.
The Winfield-area zip code, by contrast, has seen only 17 cases.
Despite this imbalance, the Arkansas City Commission has no plans to require citizens to wear face-coverings while out in public.
The City of Winfield implemented a public mask order in early July. It basically follows the statewide mandate ordered by Gov. Laura Kelly, which Cowley County commissioners opted out of.
The Winfield Commission voted 3-0 to require face coverings in any public space where social distancing of six feet is not possible, including outside, and in businesses, organizations and nonprofits. Violators face a possible $25 fine for the first offense.
Exemptions include people with medical conditions, mental health conditions or disabilities that would preclude them from safely wearing a face covering, and customers eating at restaurants.
Ark City Mayor Karen Welch said she thinks there is no need for a mask requirement because residents already know what they need to do.
“If the City Commission were to say, ‘Wear your mask, it will stop the virus,’ they already know that, unless they have been living in a cave for the last four months,” she said.
Even if consequences for not wearing the mask were imposed, Welch said, she doesn’t think they would be effective. People could fight a citation in court and would likely win, she speculated.
“I notice in Wichita, Mayor (Brandon) Whipple said the police will educate you, whatever that means,” Welch said with a laugh, referring to a mask ordinance in the City of Wichita.
Commissioner Jay Warren said the only action the commission plans to take is to advise everyone to wear a mask.
“We talked to (Public Health Officer) Thomas Langer and he said if you are around people, put your mask on, but he’s not recommending forcing everyone to do that,” Warren said.
Commissioner Duane Oestmann at the end of the Tuesday meeting, brought up the subject of requiring masks in Arkansas City. He said the board did not respond to that suggestion.
“If I would have brought it up, it would have been voted down,” he said.
Oestmann said that it would be better for people to do that voluntarily, and do it because they want to.
“I had a citizen text me while I was in the meeting,” he said. “They said ‘Do not, do not, make it mandatory.’”
Oestmann said the situation will likely have to get worse before the commission would take any action.
Local health department figures released Tuesday also showed a big spike in active cases and a second death in Cowley County due to the virus.
Langer said he still does not plan to issue a countywide mask mandate, adding that he does not want to supersede any commission decision.
Warren said that all the Ark City commissioners are wearing the masks during meetings and would encourage citizens to protect themselves when out in public.