City of Emporia

City commissioners discussed the future of Emporia’s existing mask ordinance with several community leaders during a study session at the Civic Auditorium Wednesday morning.

The city’s current mask order ends next week, at which time it will either be allowed to expire, renewed as is or re-adopted with additional changes to the document.

There wasn’t too much debate on the matter Wednesday, as multiple commissioners relayed their intention to renew the existing text for an additional 30 days, setting a projected runthrough date of Oct. 16. Emporia Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Case and Interim Chief of Police Ed Owens — who both attended the meeting in person — voiced their support for renewal, as well.

“To start, I just want to thank you for putting the mask order in place,” Case told commissioners. “It’s something we all have to work together on to make happen … and as a school we’re following [state] executive order 20-59 [which recommends masking] … One of the things we heard over and over again was that there was no way kids were going to wear masks and that we were going to have tons and tons of problems there. We’ve not had problems. The first four or five days of school have gone very well.”

When asked about the matter of the ordinance’s actual enforcement, Owens said it had done little to disrupt the day-to-day functions of officers.

“We have not had a lot of people calling in and complaining and saying, ‘Hey, someone’s over here not wearing a mask,’” he said. “In fact, I don’t think we’ve had one, to be honest with you. We’re more actively working with the Health Department to educate people.”

As with past discussions on the matter, County Health Officer Renee Hively and Flint Hills Community Health Center Environmental Services Director Jennifer Milburn were front and center to provide additional case information and metrics, with several commissioners asking for clarification on testing numbers and spread rates.

“With individual cases on basically any given day, we’d really like to see that number at or below five,” Millbern said. “That is a more controllable rate for us. If we can start to see only around two or three a day, that is when we start to see the outbreak and the community spread sort of fizzle … Anything over 10 is kind of worrisome for us ... If you look from the middle of July to now, you can see we have lots of days where we have over 10 cases diagnosed in the same day.”

Millbern cautioned commissioners to be mindful of the “entire story” that could be gathered from available data, referring to a distinct drop in positivity rate and an additional jump in new cases due to large-scale random testing at Emporia State and other organizations around town. She said that while local health organizations like FHCHC and Newman Regional Health only administer about 50 tests per week in drive-thru settings — thanks, in part, to necessary symptom requirements — ESU has the ability to offer tests to anyone who may have been exposed, with hundreds of tests performed simply for precautionary reasons.

When asked by commissioners, both Millbern and Hively admitted Lyon County’s case positivity rate — which currently sits at around 8% — would likely be much lower if health organizations had the ability to test each of the county’s more than 33,000 residents.

“One of the questions that I will need to be able to answer to the voters and to our constituents is what appears to be the lack of efficacy of masks when you look at our data,” said Commissioner Susan Brinkman. “I heard you guys point us back to June in how well we were doing, and now we’re not doing very well even though we’ve had four weeks of mask usage. I think it’s a valid question from our citizens and I think it deserves a better answer than, ‘Gosh, look at how much worse it could have been.’”

“That kind of stuff is very hard to plot,” Millbern suggested. “There’s not a data point to pull out there. It’s not in some spreadsheet somewhere … Definitely what we’ve noticed is … when those [positive] individuals were wearing masks and were around people wearing masks, we’re not seeing spread. We’re not seeing that positive person give it to other people. The majority of our cases right now are related to gatherings where there was no mask wearing. Now, that can vary. It’s not always a social gathering, and it doesn’t even have to be a large group... They could just be having a small dinner with five people.”

The future of Ordinance No. 24 — which was adopted Aug. 5 during a meeting of the city commission — will be voted on next Wednesday. Currently, the ordinance requires a mask or other face covering that covers both the nose and mouth to be worn in indoor and outdoor public spaces when social distancing is not possible. It applies to all businesses, organizations and non-profits located within city limits, meaning those entities must require all employees, visitors, customers, members and non-members to wear masks or face coverings. The ordinance does not include private residential or private office or workspaces that are closed to customers and public visitors.

During the meeting, city commissioners also:

Reviewed SPARKS/CARES Act funding purchases with City Consultant Jim Witt, agreeing to hold off on purchases including no-touch faucets and sinks in several city buildings. Witt was instead instructed to return to commissioners with information on the possibility of providing large-scale rapid testing for the city of Emporia. Witt will return with recommendations during the commission’s next study session on Sept. 23.

(10) comments

Dale011

There is no reason to keep the mask order in place. Folks are tired of the panic campaign.

Aim_High

Tell that to the families of 190,000 dead people... That's the equivalent of a 9/11 attack every day for 2 months.

WatchmanAnon

There seems to be a lack of curiosity among some groups. I am struck by the ease people accept and favor anecdotal evidence over empirical evidence and data. Doesn't the scientific community owe us irrefutable data if we are attempting to mandate behavioral changes in a community? If they don't have those "data points," then how are they the experts? Feelings aren't part of the scientific process.

I have lots of unanswered questions.

Here's one: If there is no "data point" as stated by the reporting agencies on the effectiveness of masks, then why is there a question about extending the mask mandate? The reporting agencies cannot prove through empirical data that masks have helped at all. All they have are personal stories and experiences. Where's the science in that?

Then there is this question: At what point in our history as Americans did we allow a few elected commissioners to mandate anything over a population? The people give the mandates to the elected officials, not the other way around. We are a republic. We did not elect officials to base decisions on fear or feelings or hunches. We elected them to represent the majority of people in this community. End the mandate.

Rationa1

We don't have time for "irrefutable data," Watchman. Yet there is convincing empirical evidence--check CDC, WHO, etc. as well as peer-reviewed journals. Even Trump himself is on tape as having said this is a quite dangerous virus that is highly contagious. I don't think you have unanswered questions; I think you simply don't like the answers the scientists are providing are answers you dislike. And I don't know what you expect from your elected representatives, but I expect mine to represent the best interests of the community...even if that means taking a difficult position that will anger much of the community. That's called leadership. Simply bowing to the loudest (or largest number) of voices when that is not in the community's best interest is pandering at best.

WatchmanAnon

This is a republic.

We are not under tyrannical rule or under the thumb of despotism. We are not in a totalitarian state, a monarchy, or under dictatorial rule. We are a republic. My expectation is that our elected officials remember this as they serve us. They serve at the pleasure of the people. They do not rule the people. They are there to represent the people. If elected officials choose not to represent the people then they have breached the contract they had with the very people who elected them. As a recourse the people have the right to demand a recall and replace them with representatives of the people. This should be the expectation of every American.

Rationa1

I agree with your first point. I even agree with your second point, but I think we are under risk of authoritarianism and the coming election will be telling. Where we differ is that I do not believe "representing the people" means our representatives blindly follow what Mill called "the tyranny of the majority." Because you are well-read on matters of liberty and democracy, I know you are familiar with Mill's and Tocqueville's ideas, Watchman, and can probably quote them better than I can. Where we differ is our idea of the social contract between the representatives and the represented. Who is to be represented--only the majority, or the whole of the population? The minority has as much right as the majority, and the majority has a moral obligation to respect and even actively protect the rights of the minority. The social contract as THIS American sees it is not to blindly follow the whims of the majority but to make rational decisions on behalf of the whole. I have no doubt you believe every American should expect their representatives to blindly follow the majority's will, but you will be disappointed to know that I actually expect more than that from my representatives.

Aim_High

There was a poll and the majority supported masks.

Rationa1

Then there's that point, too, Aim. Which Watchman conveniently ignored for no good reason that I can figure out.

WatchmanAnon

Keep your eye on the ball.

People wanted to try a mask mandate. The hope was it would prove beyond any doubt that masks would eliminate the spread.

Time was introduced into the equation to validate claims.

Weeks have passed. The infection rates have increased.

Time proved, in this community, that masks did not eliminate the spread.

Therefore, there is no logical reason to continue the mandate.

If a person chooses to wear a mask, then let him/her do so.

If a person chooses not to wear a mask, then he/she should not be forced to wear one.

Here's the ball: The data disproved the theory that masks would protect the community.

Aim_High

Crazy how the virus isn't spreading like wildfire among participants in these massive protests across the country, where masks are worn my the vast majority, but a giant motorcycle rally where hardly any masks were worn has led to 260,000 coronavirus cases... common sense says masks work, but we have these brainwashed people who refuse to see the reality.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.