Despite Jackson County remaining a community of high spread of COVID-19, as measured under CDC standards, county legislators on Friday dropped the mask mandate covering most of Eastern Jackson County. The county Health Department had recommended keeping the mandate.
The vote was 5-4. Two legislators – Tony Miller, D-Lee's Summit and Ronald Finley, D-Kansas City – had previously voted to maintain the mandate but voted the other way Friday. Neither explained their change of mind.
“The people of Jackson County want this over with,” said County Legislator Theresa Cass Galvin, R-Lee's Summit, one of the sponsors of the measure to drop the mandate.
The mandate had been in place since August, and legislators last week renewed it through Nov. 22. It applied to indoor public spaces across the county except in Independence and Kansas City, which have their own rules.
On Monday, Finley suggested revisiting the issue, and it was placed on Friday’s agenda. Those in favor of repeal were Galvin; Miller; Finley; Jeanie Lauer, R-Blue Springs; and Dan Tarwater, D-Kansas City. Those voting to keep the mandate were Jalen Anderson, D-Blue Springs; Charlie Franklin, D-Independence; Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City; and Scott Burnett, D-Kansas City.
County Executive Frank White Jr. on Friday asked legislators to at least stick with the Nov. 22 date so school districts could make their own plans.
“I think it would create a lot of confusion and chaos if it ended today, and effective today,” White said.
Some legislators also pleaded to keep the mandate at least for now.
“What I’ve been hearing for the last 48 hours is parents who are panicked” about their children’s exposure to the disease, Williams said. In particular, she said, parents of children with underlying medical conditions have been reaching out.
“And they’re basically begging us to just let it stand,” she said.
CDC guidelines call for masks
Bridgette Shaffer, the county health director, recommended keeping the mask mandate. She pointed out that although COVID-19 cases have dropped since the beginning of August, they have plateaued in recent weeks – as of Friday still above the threshold that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers a high rate of community transmission. Because of that, she said, CDC guidelines call for people to wear masks indoors in public.
She said mask wearing is especially important given the county’s low vaccination rate.
Legislator Anderson said he has gone back and forth on the mandate for the last couple of weeks. He mentioned the waves of emails and other communication that he and other legislators have gotten from the public, some dismissive of the 22 COVID-19 deaths among his own friends and family and some demanding that those supporting a mandate resign. He said the conversation has gotten out of hand.
“And I ask the public to tone down,” he said.
Anderson also fired back at the Blue Springs City Council, which in letter last Saturday called for an end to the mandate and claimed that “there hasn’t been a COVID-19 related death in nearly a month” in Eastern Jackson County. The correct number is 60, Anderson said, and he called out council members on that.
“Are you going to tell those 60 families that their loved ones did not die of COVID, and it’s all a lie?” he asked.
He also said the Kansas City Council was wrong to drop most of its mandate last week without consulting with the county.
“Terribly reckless,” Anderson said. “They did not listen to the facts.”
White stressed the need to follow the facts and the science, and he said the Health Department needs to know it has elected officials’ support.
“It’s not a political situation with me,” he said. “Public safety is what it is.”
He acknowledged the intense political pressure legislators have been under to drop the mandate.
“I understand the public pressure,” he told legislators. “I understand protesters in front of your house, which I have had.”
This article originally appeared on The Examiner: Jackson County legislators vote 5-4 for early end to mask mandate