Earlier this week, Gov. Laura Kelly passed a mask mandate that applies across the state.
The order requires Kansans to wear face coverings when indoors in a public space or when social distancing is not possible. Children under the age of 5 and people who are medically exempt from wearing a mask do not have to wear one.
The Geary County Commission will talk about the matter with Health Department Director Dr. Tammy Von Busch Monday. Commissioner Brad Scholz said the county’s response is not official until after that discussion has taken place, but he offered his personal take on the order and how Geary County might respond.
Geary County passed a mask ordinance Oct. 13, so according to Scholz, the governor’s order may not have much impact on Geary County’s current policy.
“It is pretty darn close to what we’re already doing in Geary County,” he said.
Masks are supposed to be worn in public places in Geary County when people can’t maintain six feet of distance.
According to Scholz, the only significant difference between Geary County’s current order and the one that came down from the Governor’s office is that it requires business owners and employees to wear masks even when there are no customers in the business.
“That was one of the things that we took out of the original health order when we did our resolution the last time,” Scholz said.
He said the county had previously dismissed that as “a little extreme.”
Scholz said he did not know how the county would respond to Kelly’s mask mandate.
“What I say doesn’t mean a lot,” Scholz said. “It takes the three of us to determine whether there will be a resolution or what have you.”
The current mask order applies all across Geary County, including in Junction City.
The county’s current mask order can be enforced by the Geary County Sheriff’s Office, according to Von Busch, if a complaint is filed.
“They can issue them a ticket,” she said.
COVID-19 cases have begun to pick up across the state, which is what prompted this order from the Governor’s office and numbers have also increased recently in Geary County.
“I think we’re seeing an increase in numbers pretty consistently,” Von Busch said. “I think that if people don’t want to abide by any kind of rules, we’re going to continue to see numbers going up.”
There are currently no active hotspots for the virus, according to Von Busch.
Because Geary County has a smaller population than Riley County, Von Busch does not expect numbers to surge here as they have in Manhattan — with one day last week bringing 180 new cases for Riley County — but she said people still need to be cautious.
“There’s more than just masks that are involved in controlling this virus,” she said. “I think that some people think that, ‘well I have my mask on, that’s good enough,’ but they don’t think about washing their hands or using hand sanitizer before they take their masks off or they take their masks off, they rub their nose because their masks tickle their nose and they’re exposing themselves that way when they’ve been out shopping and touching stuff that other people have been touching and door handles and what have you.”
People should cleanse their hands before touching their masks or touching their faces after they’ve removed their masks.
“You want to avoid contaminating your mask … It’s ok to take it off. The recommendation is that you put on a new mask every time so that the one you just took off isn’t contaminated, but for some people that just isn’t realistic,” Von Busch said. “They go to half a dozen stores, well now you’re carrying around eight or 10 masks with you just to go in and out of stores. But I think if people practice good hygiene with washing their hands or sanitizing their hands before they take their mask off or when they put it back on, then they minimize the contamination. And the big trick too is to make sure that you don’t contaminate the inside of your mask.”