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Commission upholds opting out of state mask order
Divided commission weighs allowing mask mandate in Barton County
covid-19 county commission pic
Barton County commissioners Jennifer Schartz and Homer Kruckenberg were the only two commissioners Monday morning voting to rescind an earlier motion and allow the state COVID-19 mask mandate to be effective in the county. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Monday morning:

•  Voted not to rescind a resolution  approved July 2 that repealed the provisions of Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order mandating the wearing of face masks in most public situations. This means the mask order will remain not applicable in Barton County.

• Approved the placement of stop signs at the intersection of NE 40 Road and NE 10 Avenue in Great Bend Township.

• Announced that the County Commission will meet as the Board of County Canvassers at 8:30 a.m. on Monday in the County Clerk’s Office. At that time, they will canvass ballots from the Aug. 4, 2020, Primary Election.

A split Barton County Commission Monday morning let stand a earlier resolution opting the county out of Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order mandating the use of face masks in public places to stem the spread of COVID-19. On the agenda was a resolution that would have rescinded this action, requiring residents to abide by the governor’s order.

Commissioners, acting as Board of Health during a special meeting July 2, in essence repealed Kelly’s mandate locally, and this is what Monday’s action would have reversed.

It was a three-two vote that let stand the July 2 decision. Voting for the status quo were commissioners Jim Daily (District 4), Don Davis (District 3) and Chairman Kenny Schremmer (District 1), and voting to rescind were Jennifer Schartz (District 5) and Homer Kruckenberg (District 2) (both of whom were wearing masks).

“We voted on this awhile back to opt out of this,” a Schartz said. She said she gave the matter a lot of thought at the time.

“I really wanted to impress on people the importance of wearing a mask,” she said. “I thought it was really an individual thing people ought to take care of.”

But, “I’ve kind of changed what I think,” she said. “Because I think it’s the job of the commission to keep the people safe, and to keep businesses open. And it really comes down to that.”

She believes masks may help that happen.

“There are a lot of things that I don’t know,” she said. “We don’t know if we do too much. But if we do too little and we continue to do too little our numbers continue to increase, you know, it puts everybody in jeopardy.”

She noted that even President Donald Trump is wearing a masks. “He thinks that people should wear masks, when social distancing isn’t possible.”

And, “the state has given us a lot of money to help combat this,” she said. “So I know that everyone realizes that this is an important thing.

“Wearing a mask really doesn’t cost anything and we’re not asking people to wear them all the time,” Schartz said. “We’re asking them to wear them when they’re in a crowd and cannot be socially distant from people.”

As for enforceability, “by asserting how important we feel this is, you know, we may catch some people who may not wear a mask otherwise.”

She knows a lot of people are thinking that it’s infringing on their personal liberties. “We live in a society where there are lots of limits placed on you” like wearing a seatbelt or shoes when you go into a business.

“I think if people would just look at it as a kindness to others, that maybe they wouldn’t feel so offended to wear a mask,” she said.

“I think you ought to wear masks, bottom line,” Kruckenberg said.

“I will echo a lot of the things that Jennifer has said,” said Daily. “Wearing a mask has proven that it does work.”

That is where the agreement stopped.

But, having said all that he said he had a considerable amount of “spirited conversation” about this last week. He has been called, emailed and corresponded with by folks his Fourth District. 

“I believe that no matter what my personal opinion of this may be, because my personal opinion is I believe y’all should wear a mask. I believe social distancing is a good idea,” he said. 

However, “I do not think that making a mandate that is non enforceable, that is infringing on those personal liberties people have, I think it ought to be their choice.

“And so, in my humble opinion, as it is, I think making a mandate at this point and going away from the resolution that we have would not be in the best interest of the folks around Barton County.

“I would agree with all of that statement,” Davis said.

Schremmer said he, too, had gotten a lot of calls, mostly from rural areas.

On the agenda

Should the action on the Monday agenda have been approved, it would have rescinded the early resolution. The mask requirement would have applied to all areas of the county, incorporated and unincorporated. If commissioners had approved its own, new resolution on masks, it would have only impacted unincorporated areas.

On July 2, Kelly issued executive order 20-52 requiring that most Kansans must wear a mask while in public spaces, and in places where individuals are unable to maintain social distancing of six feet. 

Kelly’s order went into effect July 3. It requires masks be worn in stores, restaurants and in any situation where social distancing of 6 feet cannot be maintained, including outside. 

Kansans under 5 years of age, those with medical conditions, and others specifically outlined in the order are exempt from these requirements.

However, during a special session in March, the Republican-dominated Kansas Legislature adopted House Bill No. 2016 allowing Kansas counties to issue an order related to public health to contain provisions that are less stringent than the provisions of an Executive Order issued by the governor. 

In other words, county were allowed to opt out of the executive order, which is what Barton County did in July. 

About the governor’s order

The order will remain in place until rescinded or until the current statewide State of Disaster Emergency expires – whichever is earlier, the governor’s office reported.

Under the order, Kansans are required to wear masks when inside any public space – including their workplace – or in situations where social distancing of 6 feet cannot be maintained. Guidance regarding specific places or situations in which masks are required is outlined within the order.

Kansans under five years of age, those with medical conditions, and others specifically outlined in the order are exempt from these requirements.