Lyon County Commissioners officially approved the county’s newest health order during a regularly-scheduled action session Thursday morning.
Having taken effect at midnight Friday, the new order is set to run through Sept. 18 and does not mandate masks but “highly encourages” them in situations where proper social distancing cannot be maintained.
Guidelines regarding mass gatherings remain unchanged — with the limit still set at 45 people — as does language providing recommendations on travel, high-risk individuals, proper business protocols and promoting the safety of individuals currently residing in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities. A full copy of the order is available on the county’s website at lyoncounty.org/index.
“I think we’ve in some way developed a plan that fits [the situation] and a plan that the people of Lyon County want,” said Commissioner Rollie Martin. “They want to have their own individual rights to wear a mask or not wear a mask and have the responsibility as an individual to move this community forward, move [cases] back down and to hopefully make it so schools can open in the fall. That means wearing a mask when there’s no opportunity [for social distancing], wherever that may be.”
Referencing their encouragement by the area’s recent COVID-19 trends — which included only 18 active cases as of Wednesday afternoon according to information provided by Lyon County Public Health — commissioners said they didn’t see much reason for “altering what was already working” in making a final decision.
Since the meeting, members of public health have reported 13 additional positives and 12 recoveries, setting the current number of active cases at 25. Sheriff Jeff Cope also sent out a press release Friday morning announcing two additional inmate positives at the county detention center. It is currently unknown whether the positives have been added to the overall total.
“We have to be very careful about overwhelming [Public Health’s] systems,” said Commissioner Scott Briggs. “Our numbers are great right now and I think the reason for that is about what the people have been doing. Of course there’s going to be exceptions to that. When you talk about the word ‘universal’ that means any and everybody has to wear a mask … I support the theory of universal masking, but I don’t know how that would be able to be enforced. That’s the main concern.”
“[COVID-19] is a scary deal, and it’s not something that’s going to go away immediately,” Commissioner Dan Slater added. “We’re going to have to watch it every week, especially if the numbers start going through the roof like they’ve done in Arizona and some other places. There’s a chance that maybe we’ll have to come back to it, and maybe it’s something we can look at each meeting moving forward.”
As with most news regarding the pandemic, reaction to Thursday’s announcement was met with a split of opinions on social media. In a poll posted to the Gazette’s Facebook page Thursday evening, 43 percent of users said they agreed with commissioners’ decisions. As of Friday morning, the poll had more than 1,500 individual responses.
“I see it both ways,” commented Crystal Michelle. “Freedom of choice. BUT a necessity to stop the spread!”
“We need to get immunity,” Amber Stivers offered. “This won’t happen if we stay shuttered up and in fact we’ll be more susceptible to multiple diseases. Masks don’t work and should never be mandated.”
“I don’t understand why we can’t look at other countries who have won over the pandemic and model our behavior after them,” countered Ashley May. “Masks work and it’s not forever.”
“Doctors and nurses have to wear masks for up to 12 hours or more a day,” added Haley Nuessen. “Wearing a mask inside Walmart for an hour isn’t a big deal. Just wear it.”
Regardless of community opinion, Lyon County Attorney Marc Goodman said it was “highly possible” the order would be restructured in some way during the course of its lifetime. He encouraged commissioners to see the order as a “living document” and keep updated on the latest information and recommendations from health agencies in order to promote the safest possible environment for county residents.
“A special meeting can be called at any time should the trends and tendencies reflect that the commission needs to change this order,” Goodman said. “That can be done with minimal notice. So, saying Sept. 18 [as a deadline] is not so set in stone.”
According to reports by members of the Associated Press, about four in 10 Kansans live in counties that have overruled Gov. Laura Kelly’s statewide mask order. At this point in time, more than 90 of the state’s 105 counties have opted out of the mandate, at least in some form.
“I’m not surprised,” said Dennis Kriesel, director of the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments, in an AP interview earlier this week. “I think most of the local health officers aren’t, either, at this point. The mask issue has become political.”