The Barton County Commission met at 9 a.m. Tuesday as the Barton County Board of Health and voted unanimously to adopt a county-wide mask mandate that went into effect as soon as it was signed. The resolution applies to the entire county, including the incorporated areas, and shall remain in effect until rescinded.
“Masks or other face coverings shall be required for all indoor property open to the public within Barton County, Kansas. This does not include private residential property or private offices or workspaces that are not open to customers or public visitors. Also exempt are persons in public spaces separated by a physical barrier designed to prevent the spread of infections disease.
“Masks or other face coverings shall be required for outdoor activities or events within Barton County, Kansas in which social distancing of a minimum of six (6) feet cannot be maintained between non-household members.”
The resolution does include a list of exemptions, including children under 5 years of age, people who can’t wear a mask because of a physical or mental condition, people for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk related to their work, persons seated at a restaurant or other establishment that offers food or beverage service (while they are eating or drinking), and athletes engaged in a sports activity.
Governor Laura Kelly’s latest executive order, No. 20-68, would have gone into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday if no action was taken by the county. This mandate basically follows her executive order, but it is more lenient in a couple of respects, County Administrator Phil Hathcock said.
“The resolution is slightly less restrictive than the governor’s order,” he said.
The executive order would require employees to wear masks in any area open to the public, even when no one from the public was present, except in the exemptions mentioned earlier. The county’s resolution allows employees in those areas to work without wearing masks at times when the public is not in the area so long as they are behind a protective barrier such as a plexiglass shield.
For example, the Clerk of the District Court’s office on the third floor of the courthouse is open to the public but employees are behind a clear plastic shield. The governor’s order would have required those employees to wear masks at all times the office is open but the county version will allow them to not wear masks if they can stay at least 6 feet apart from everyone.
The county commissioners weren’t necessarily in agreement at Monday’s study session but the vote Tuesday was unanimous. They could have made the resolution pertain only to unincorporated areas, but chose the option of making it countywide.
“I think it’s ridiculous if we don’t include the incorporated cities,” commissioner Jennifer Schartz said, noting most of the county’s population lives in the cities and shops there.
“We need to support the Health Department,” Schartz said. “I for one feel obligated to support them in their tireless efforts to keep us all safe.”
Commissioner Jim Daily said he hasn’t changed his mind about mandates; they can have unintended consequences and in this case may be impossible to enforce. But he said he would agree to the resolution.
“We do have an obligation to see that we do everything that we can possibly do to keep our communities safe,” he said, adding County Health Director Karen Winkelman “is working tirelessly with her staff and the Health Department, and those folks have even become victim to this virus that’s going around because of the constant contact and the work that they do trying to keep everybody tested and safe.”
Daily added, “We absolutely have to do what we believe is necessary to keep our citizens in Barton County safer than they are right now." Earlier this year, the commission decided a mask mandate was not necessary. "But I think at this point, it’s become more necessary than it was before. And if things change, we have the ability to revisit this and change this resolution at any time.”
Commission Chairman Kenny Schremmer said, “I’m in favor of the masks.” After expressing reservations about a mandate on Monday, he said he’d taken more calls from his constituents in northern Barton County and most agreed that they could accept a mask mandate as long as it isn’t taken further with “some other mandates.” He noted that Hoisington hospital “is full — it’s packed.” So, he would vote for the resolution.
“I’d agree with that,” commissioner Homer Kruckenberg added.
Commissioner Don Davis attended the meeting via telephone as said he agreed “on just about everything that everybody’s saying. I believe that’s the way to go.”