Shawnee Co. health order to become recommendations, mask mandate to expire in April

Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 11:00 AM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - COVID-19 Health Orders in Shawnee County will soon just be recommendations.

Shawnee County Commissioners made the move on a 2-1 vote Thursday morning.

The vote comes after commissioners followed up on a request Commissioner Aaron Mays made last week.

Mays suggested commissioners revisit health orders once Kansas moves into phase three of vaccinations.

Governor Laura Kelly announced Monday the state would move into a combination phase of vaccinations for phases three and four.

Commissioners returned to the chambers Thursday divided.

“I did make the statement when the state moved to phase three that we would move this health order to recommendations,” Mays said.

“After conversations with several people over the last week, I still think that’s an appropriate thing to do.”

However, Mays felt differently about one item.

“I don’t feel like it’s time to remove the mask mandate just yet,” he said.

“I feel like removing us from a requirement on our executive order in approval of the health order to a recommendation is about two weeks premature,” said Board Chair Kevin Cook.

“I think we’re at a point where our numbers are coming down they’re dropping like a rock and I feel like it’s time to give people that choice,” argued Commissioner Bill Riphahn.

Health officials, however, were united in their argument.

“We have not changed a lot from where we were last week so I recommend we keep the health order as it is,” said county Health Officer Dr. Erin Locke.

“I recommend we make no changes to the mask order.”

Dr. Dennis Cooley, the chair of the Public Health Technical Advisory Board, agreed, “Mounting evidence has shown that mask mandates have been successful in stemming the spread among communities.”

Cooley temporarily served as county Health Officer before commissioners approved on Locke’s implementation.

County residents shared a different opinion.

“I think it’s time people get to assert common sense and do what’s right for themselves,” one person said.

“My right, my body you let me choose,” added another resident.

“We’re not looking at who is this harming and so I recommend masks aren’t mandated,” another said.

“This is the United States of America and we have freedoms and rights and I don’t think you can take those rights away from me,” one woman added.

After a lengthy discussion, commissioners voted two to one to change the health order to recommendations, with Cook as the dissenting vote.

The changes will go into effect Monday morning, essentially lifting measures that have been in place for the majority of the pandemic.

The state of Kansas will enter into phases three and four of its vaccination plan also on Monday.

The order does not apply to Shawnee County buildings and property, which must continue to abide by the latest Health Order approved by commissioners on March 11th.

The county mask mandate will also end at 12:01 on April 16th unless commissioners choose to revisit it beforehand.

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