At the Great Bend City Council meeting Monday night, Mayor Cody Schmidt said he didn’t think a mask mandate to stem the spread of COVID-19 was the best way for the city to go.
“I think the community is really relying on us to make the right choices,” he said. He had discussed the idea of a mask ordinance with City Administrator Kendal Francis at length prior to the meeting.
“We did a lot of research on communities where it really hasn’t worked,” Schmidt said. “I don’t think our best option is to try to mandate something and force our (Police Department) to patrol it. Some of the fines issued, to me, don’t make any sense. I think most people would probably hand you the $50 and tell you to leave me alone. That’s just the way the world’s living right now.”
Schmidt’s remarks followed after Francis brought up COVID during his city update. Masks came up in conjunction with talks regarding the cancellation of the Home for the Holiday festival.
The council ultimately decided the festival should proceed as planned. Despite both opposing mask orders, Francis and Schmidt questioned continuing with the Christmas activities.
The mask discussion
“I think everybody’s pretty aware that numbers here and spiking significantly,” Francis said of the virus. “The mayor and I have had some discussions about what that means and what we should be doing in response to that.”
As of the first thing Thursday morning, City Hall and the Events Center were both closed to the public until further notice due to a positive COVID case. City staff must also wear masks when they cannot be socially distanced.
“But, as the governing body, we probably need to take a little bit of a public stance, or at least encourage the public to utilize masks when possible,” he said. “I don’t want to go as far as looking at any kind of mandate. Some communities have tried that with mixed results.”
Francis said he’d spoken with Barton County Administrator Phil Hathcock. “I think they’re preparing to take a little bit of a public stance in regards to wearing a mask and encouraging that. So I would love for the council to do something similar.”
“I’m around town all day long, and about 40% of people are wearing masks and 60% aren’t,” said Councilman Alan Moeder, addressing masks and Christmas events. “There’s still a lot of people who don’t have any respect for the virus. We all know that. But I also think we’ve got to keep living. We can’t just hide.”
“We’ve got to do the right thing. If you don’t feel good, stay home,” said Councilman Junior Welsch, who agreed with Moeder. “Social distance to me is still the biggest (thing people can do). I’m not going to say I’m a 100% believer in the masks.”
He understands that those who are more susceptible may have to hold up in their home. “But we’ve still got to have some sort of life. We’ve just got to follow the rules, you know.”
Now, the for its part, the County Commission has rejected mask mandates on two past occasions, instead offering stern appeals to the public to do the right thing. But, even if commissioners changed course and approved a mask resolution, it would only apply to unincorporated areas of the county.
That means it would not cover Great Bend nor any other city.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on Wednesday announced a new executive order requiring face coverings statewide. The plan gives communities a week to craft mask mandates for their jurisdictions.
Hathcock said the matter will come up Monday morning during the commission’s weekly study session following its agenda meeting.