No citations have been issued so far for violations of the City of Winfield’s mask ordinance, even as the number of cases continues to grow, officials said on Wednesday.
Winfield Police Chief Robbie DeLong said officers have not seen an uptick in complaints from citizens about people not wearing masks. He didn’t have numbers immediately available, but said the last complaint was made a couple of weeks ago.
One problem when it comes to issuing citations is that incidents are often reported after the fact, which makes the ordinance difficult to enforce, DeLong said.
The police department consults with the City-Cowley County Health Department weekly to discuss whether or not to step up enforcement of the ordinance, DeLong said.
Enforcement efforts continue to focus on education and providing people with masks if needed. Officers have both cloth and disposable masks they can distribute.
Right now, “we feel working with communities is showing the most benefit,” DeLong said.
Winfield City Manager Taggart Wall stressed that people need to follow the mask ordinance.
“It is extremely important for the community to find ways to try and roll back the tide of cases,” Wall said. “One way to do this is to wear a mask.”
While masks aren’t the be-all and end-all of slowing coronavirus transmission, they do help, Wall said.
Area hospitals are running out of space to treat patients with other medical issues because they are filling up with COVID-19 patients, Wall said, which shows the goal of reducing COVID infections is not being met.
“People need to wear a mask. It’s that plain and simple,” Wall said.
Even with the spiking COVID numbers, no additional restrictions are being considered right now, Wall said. However, he said, people still need to be very cautious when attending large gatherings, as these are the kind of events that are spreading the virus. He is also starting to see some local businesses begin to promote mask usage more heavily, including some that were reluctant to do so earlier in the pandemic.
There would have to be a significant decrease in the number of positive tests in order for the mask ordinance to be rescinded, Wall said.
“I see a mask ordinance in Winfield for the foreseeable future. Certainly through the holidays,” Wall said.
Winfield City Commissioner Greg Thompson said the commission is currently reviewing the city’s ordinance and comparing it to the most recent statewide mask mandate issued by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on Wednesday. although so far he is not aware of any tightening up the commission would have to do in order to bring the city ordinance in line with the new mandate.
Thompson said compliance with the local mask ordinance seems to be down a bit, and people have become more relaxed about wearing them. He stressed that efforts should be made to educate people on the importance of wearing a mask.
“We need to get education out to people and make sure they know the ordinance and that they should comply with it,” he said.
The ordinance, which was issued by the Winfield City Commission in July, will remain in effect until rescinded by the commission.
Numbers provided by public health officer Tom Langer with the City-Cowley County Health Department show that the county has now had over 1,200 cases, with 402 having occurred in November alone. A total of 358 cases are currently considered active.
“That number will continue to climb, I am afraid,” Langer said.
Locally, more than 10 people are currently hospitalized for COVID-19.
“Our local providers, while busy, can and will help our local residents,” Langer said.
The health department has tested more than 250 people this week as of Thursday, and will surpass 300 tests for the week today. It is likely that 1,000 people will have been tested through the health department by Thanksgiving, said Langer. The county-wide positive case rate is around 25 percent.
“The plus side is that 75 percent of folks being tested are not ill with COVID-19; however, it also indicates that other respiratory infections and gastrointestinal infections are currently present in the community,” Langer said. “This reinforces the sanitation and hand washing messaging that we try and have people follow.”
Things at the health department remain extremely busy, and people who call the office and get a busy signal are encouraged to continue trying.
“Remember, individual responsibility is the key to us turning this around. Everyone needs to do their part to stop the spread of illness in the community,” Langer said.