Cowley County commissioners unanimously approved a proclamation “declaring the importance of community awareness and public safety related to the COVID-19 pandemic for Cowley County, Kansas,” at their meeting Tuesday.
The proclamation focuses on people taking responsibility for their own health and safety by “taking appropriate actions and educating themselves on what can impact the community, their families and themselves.”
Suggested actions include recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control: wearing a face mask when appropriate, keeping six feet from one another in public, staying home if you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and contacting medical professionals.
County administrator Lucas Goff said the proclamation will be followed up with a countywide effort among various entities to promote the importance the safety measures. The Arkansas City Commission approved a resolution this week to promote the campaign.
The action comes amid a huge outbreak in cases in Cowley County and the state. The county added 94 more cases since Monday, for a total of 1,198 since the pandemic began. Two more deaths were reported, both residents of the Arkansas City Presbyterian Manor. That makes at least 18 deaths linked to the virus in the county, with eight announced since last week.
On Wednesday, Gov. Laura Kelly announced another statewide mask mandate. Counties again have the option to back out, otherwise the requirement would remain starting Nov. 25.
Cowley County commissioners opted out when Kelly issued her first order that took affect July 2.
At least a dozen counties have tightened up their pandemic-related rules during the past two weeks, including some that are heavily Republican and had voters who favored President Donald Trump by wide margins in the presidential election.
But the Cowley County Commission doesn’t seem any more likely to accept Kelly’s order this time.
The commissioners — Chairman Wayne Wilt, Alan Groom and Bob Voegele — agreed that the proclamation they approved this week is suggestive rather than a requirements. And they were particularly resistant to making wearing a face covering a matter of law and said that such a requirement cannot be enforced.
All three agreed that they would not sign a mandate of their own that is unenforceable, and they believe a mask mandate cannot be enforced.
“Police and sheriff’s deputies have more important things to do than enforce a mask mandate,” Voegele said. “I hope they’d be out trying to catch a killer instead of stopping a guy and giving him a ticket for not wearing a mask.”
Voegele also said he has not been convinced that wearing a mask can absolutely protect someone from getting the virus. And he wondered if a mask mandate is somehow socialistic.
Groom said he believes a mask mandate interferes with individual freedoms for which our forefathers fought and that he did not agree with the City of Winfield approving an ordinance.
Groom said he believes in working to protect the community as well as his family, but he does not think that a mandate would accomplish that goal. “Good luck trying to enforce it,” he said.
All three men said they wear masks when they go out in public, are avoiding big crowds and washing their hands frequently.
Voegele said he and his wife had planned a big party this weekend — 35 or 40 people — and they canceled it when they saw how bad things were getting.
“If there’s a big gathering of people, I’m not going to be there,” Groom said.
Wilt agreed with the other commissioners about appropriate behavior in dealing with the coronavirus — and that behavior includes not trying to force people to wear masks.
“People need to control and protect themselves to keep from spreading the virus,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.