WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Sedgwick County Commissioners voted 3-2 on Wednesday to rescind local health order No. 2021-4. Their action removes the mask mandate, but masking and social distancing are still recommended. You can watch the meeting above or on YouTube.
“At that point in time, it’s probably likely that most counties are going to not have the local order anymore but private businesses are going to be able to set the conditions under which they operate,” said Tim Kaufman, Sedgwick County deputy manager.
Dr. Garold Minns, Sedgwick County health officer, fears loosening restrictions could cause the rate of infection to go up.
The county will be asking the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for a go-ahead to move into Phase 5 of the state’s vaccination plan and will be holding a meeting Friday to discuss it.
When asked about mask requirements in Sedgwick County buildings, KSN was told, “the State Supreme Court has issued a directive to our court partners that masking and distancing should be adhered to in our courtrooms. As such, the county will continue to require masking and social distancing within all county facilities.”
Dr. Minns said he saw Wednesday’s decision coming — to remove the mask mandate, as did Commissioner Jim Howell who voted to get rid of it.
“For us to tailor a health order that would withstand the standards in Senate Bill 40 we have to be very careful how we word the latest health order, in my opinion, is much too broad and it does not do a good job of being narrowly focused,” said Howell.
County commissioner Sarah Lopez voted against removing the health order and said she feels like Wednesday’s decision was disrespectful to healthcare workers.
“We are just saying we see that you are finally getting this break but we are no longer going to help keep it this way — I’m sorry to everyone who works in the medical community because this was the wrong decision in my viewpoint,” said Lopez.
Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple said he hopes to be able to add some restrictions at the city level. “I’m not one who backs down from a fight. We are going to see what we can do that is within our powers, so that we can protect people and keep us on the right path,” said Whipple.
Mayor Whipple said the city does have the legal authority to implement a mask mandate, but there aren’t enough votes on the city council. He’s urging people to reach out to their council members.
Sedgwick County announced Thursday that per executive order No. 20-68 issued by Governor Kelly on November 18, 2020, requiring people to wear masks while in public spaces and which became effective November 25, 2020, applies to counties that did not have a local mask order already in place. At the time, the county had a local health order in place; therefore, the order did not apply.
However, the action taken by the Sedgwick County Board of County Commissioners Wednesday to revoke the local health order means the Governor’s executive order No. 20-68 is in effect.