Shawnee Co. Commissioners vote to require face masks in public spaces

Published: Jul. 6, 2020 at 6:58 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Face masks will soon be required wear in indoor and outdoor public spaces where six feet of social distancing cannot be practiced for people over the age of 10.  

Shawnee County Commissioners voted 2-1 Monday on the order  created by the county’s COVID-19 task force.

According to the order, a “face mask or other face covering” means a covering of the nose and mouth secured to the head with ties, straps, loops over ears or wrapped around the lower face from the nose down. 

The definition also includes a clear plastic face shield that covers the forehead, extends below the chin and wraps around the sides of the face. 

The order states face masks must be worn in an indoor public space when employees are working in any space visited by customers or members of the public if they cannot achieve social distancing, where employees are working in a space where food is being prepared or packaged for sale or distribution and social distancing cannot be practiced and when employees are working in or walking through common areas such as hallways, stairways or elevators. 

Face masks must be worn in outdoor public spaces when social distancing cannot be achieved  in places that include but are not limited to outdoor bus stops, sidewalks, parks playgrounds, sporting events, farmers markets, and restaurants/bar patio seating. 

Face masks are not required when working in a solitary space, like an office cubicle, driving alone or solely with members of the same household, swimming, while in strenuous physical activity in a gym or outdoors (including athletes engaged in organized sports as long social distancing can be achieved) talking with people who are deaf or hard of hearing, while eating or drinking at a restaurant, speaking or presenting to an audience or congregation if more than 10 feet away,or when face masks need to be temporarily removed for security measures. 

There are also people who are exempt from the order including children under the age of 10, persons with a medical condition, mental health condition or disability that prevents wearing fa face mask. 

The decision came after a morning work session where Shawnee County’s COVID-19 response team presented commissioners with a draft of a face mask wearing order for the county.

The work session focused on the language of the mask wearing order to make it easily understandable for citizens as well as clear ways to enforce it. 

Shawnee County Commissioners rejected Governor Laura Kelly’s mask order last week and instead opted to maintain the county’s mask wearing guidelines. 

Monday, Shawnee County Health Officer Gianfranco Pezzino said it was important to act as case numbers have grown in the county and hospitals have growing concerns.

"We do not have a lot of time left to think about it I'm sure if we had a couple more weeks we could make each and every one of these orders much better but the timeline is dictated by the virus it's not dictated by us," he said. 

They are concerned about the proportion of tests they conduct that come back so they see all the signs of the writing on the wall for an increased number of hospitalizations."

Commissioners said the order needed to be easily understandable by the public as well as address scenarios where there may be mask wearing confusion. 

“It’s a two pronged rule are you more than six feet apart? If you’re not more than six feet apart put on a mask I mean it’s not complicated I’m not sure why we’re overthinking it,” Commissioner Kevin Cook said at the work session. 

Commissioner Aaron Mays described the order as something he hated to do but found it necessary to get operations back in order across the county. 

Commissioner Bill Riphahn voted against the order. 

If someone intentionally violates any part of the order, that person could see a civil penalty up to $2,500 per violation. 

The order goes into effect at 12:01 am Thursday. 

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