Public health advisers for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas are urging elected officials to bring back a mask mandate as cases of COVID-19 continue to surge through the area driven by the virus’ highly contagious delta variant.
Commissioners met for a special session Thursday evening as the local governing body weighs the possibility of bringing back restrictions that were lifted in May. It comes as others across the metro are discussing options, including Kansas City, which has announced a mandate will be reinstated.
No official action was taken by the commissioners Thursday night. But during a briefing on the current public health situation, they were encouraged to take action soon.
Area health officials recommend a requirement that masks be worn indoors in public spaces for everyone including those who have received the vaccine. The proposed order would last six weeks and aligns with new guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to area health officials.
Juliann Van Liew, director of the Wyandotte County Department of Public Health, said Thursday that the rising rate of area cases paired with underwhelming vaccinations is a cause for concern. She noted the county currently has only 35% of its population fully vaccinated and about 41% who have begun the process by receiving the first dose.
“We need something very urgently,” Van Liew said. “If 20,000 people came to us to get vaccinated tomorrow, that would be marvelous. And yet, they wouldn’t have reached their full potential for their response to those vaccines for four weeks.”
“That doesn’t help the situation right now,” she added. “What masks do is add this extra layer of protection immediately.”
Commissioner reactions to the recommendations of health officials were mixed. Some concerns were raised regarding the ability of the local government to enforce the mandate and the accuracy of the vaccine uptake numbers.
Christian Ramirez, 3rd District, said he was in favor of maintaining the mandate and continues to take that stance.
“We’re here to serve and protect this community,” Ramirez said, encouraging fellow commissioners to help “create good public policy to bring our community, which was hit the hardest in the state.”
As of Tuesday, the Kansas City metropolitan area had increased its number of new COVID-19 cases by 50% compared to the previous week. It also breached more than 600 new cases in a single day for the first time since January.
Also discussed briefly by commissioners Thursday was a new Kansas law concerning emergency management decisions. Under the law, a public health officer may no longer take unilateral actions establishing a mask mandate or social distancing requirements.
On the other side of the state line, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas announced Wednesday that a mask mandate would be coming back starting Aug. 2. The rule will apply to those over the age of 5, regardless of vaccination status, with a few exemptions.