Southeast Kansas counties consider mask mandates after Governor’s executive order

Governor Laura Kelly issues second statewide mask ordinance.

NEOSHO COUNTY, Kan. – “There’s no win in this mask war,” says Neosho County Commissioner David Orr. “If you vote for it you’re the enemy, and if you vote against it you’re the enemy.”

Commissioners in Neosho County are resisting a controversial topic. Last week, the commission voted to move forward with a mask ordinance. A reversal from their decision in July, when they opted out of the governor’s statewide mandate.

“At that time, I was having around 180 to 22. 180 saying, please don’t do the mandate, and 22 that say please do.”

Orr also explains that in July, they had only seen around 20 positive cases in the county. Now, that number is above 500, and the feedback from the community has shifted. Orr explains the commission is currently working to finalize their local ordinance, which would include enforcement actions.

“This time, we received a letter from 12 Neosho county doctors. They were united in saying we think it’s time. It’s time to mandate,” says Orr.

And now, every county is Kansas that doesn’t have an ordinance or mandate on the books will have to decide if it’s time for them. On Wednesday, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly issued a new statewide mask mandate, targeted at the counties that had opted out of her July executive order.

Crawford County Commissioners decided to let the mandate take effect in July, and have worked to educate the public on mitigation strategies to slow the spread of the virus. On Tuesday, the Crawford County Health Department activated a mobile COVID testing unit, offering free testing to residents in rural communities.

“That’s really very important to break the cycle so that we can have our community healthy again,” says Crawford County Health Department Director Janis Goedeke.

Commissioners in Allen County also allowed the mandate to take effect in July.

Bourbon County also has a mask mandate, according to The Kansas Department of Health and Environment. But Commissioner Lynne Oharah says that is being focused more on county officials in the courthouse and public works, and less in the community itself.

(Update: Mask order passed for Wilson County)

Commissioners in Labette, Woodson, and Cherokee Counties are set to discuss the mandate during their regular meetings next week. Wilson County has a special public meeting scheduled for 6:30 Monday night at Fredonia High School.

“Especially crossing county lines, it would be nice if we were united,” says Orr. “This is not communism, we’re not trying to dictate anything. We’re trying to save lives.”

Find the governor’s executive order below:

EO-20-68-Face-Coverings-protocol-Kansas, Nov. 2020