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Commission opts out of mask mandate, applies for vaccine designation

Chad Frey
cfrey@thekansan.com
Facial coverings, or masks,  will remain optional in Butler County as the county commission chose this week to opt out of an executive order by Governor Laura Kelly for the second time.

With County Health Director Jamie Downs gone — in quarantine — and the historic Butler County Courthouse closed to the public, the Butler County Commission took up a couple of items related to COVID-19 at its meeting Nov. 24.

Since the pandemic began, there have been 62 Butler County residents hospitalized and 10 deaths within the county.

Mask mandate

In the past the commission has been firm as it opted out of state-level mask mandate made in an attempt to slow the spread of pandemic COVID-19.

And that stance continued Nov. 24, one day prior to a deadline set by Gov. Laura Kelly of a second mandate she issued last week.

Downs recommended, in writing, that the county allow the governor’s order to go into effect and for the county create social distancing guidelines.

Included in her memo was testimony from area doctors — which presented varied points of view.

The resolution the commission passed a resolution that opted out of the mandate, but contained suggestions for the public — asking residents to observe social distancing among other prevention efforts.

The commission voted 4-1 to opt out of the governor’s order, with Mike Wheeler, commissioner for District 4, voting against.

“As the board of health, we should lead by example and opt into what the governor wants to do,” Wheeler said.

The rest of the commission, however, did not agree with him.

“It does not make sense to mandate something that we cannot enforce,” said Jeff Masterson, district one commissioner

“My recommendation has always been that you cannot mandate that you cannot enforce, and I will continue stand with that,” said William Johnson, county administrator. “However, at this time we are seeing surge at our hospitals both locally, and specifically, regionally. We need to advocate for people to take some personal responsibility. It should be asking them to take on those responsibilities and it is not just masking. ... Honestly masking is probably one of the last things needs to occur. Social distancing, limiting gatherings, proper health behaviors and personal hygiene are all very important.”

Johnson compared Butler County it Sedgwick, Harvey and Reno Counties — which each have a mask mandate. Of the four, Butler County has the lowest percent positivity rate and lowest incident rate per 100,000 population.

“The numbers clearly indicate that the mandate in Sedgwick County had little impact or difference than what we have seen in Butler County,” Johnson said.

Vaccinations

The county is submitting an application to the Centers for Disease Control to be a dispensary point for a vaccine. Within the past two weeks, three vaccines from three different companies have been announced.

A supply chain — a way to get the vaccine distributed in the United States — is in the process of being built.

“This gets us in line for any vaccinations that come out,” Johnson said. “The Health department would be able to accept those and administer those through public health programs.”

It is unclear how much the vaccine will cost — either to providers or to those seeking the shot.

“One of the terms [in the application] is that we will vaccinate, using what we receive from the CDC, regardless to whether an individual can pay or not. It looks like they will dispense that, and allow us to charge for the administration,” Johnson said. “Almost 100 percent of the time we are allowed to pass on any cost that we have incurred.”

The vaccine will not be mandatory.

“It will not be mandated by government to take, whether or not an employer mandates it upon their employees, that is up to them,” Johnson said. “There are all kinds of things that happen in private employment that are outside of our control and we are not into that”

Courthouse update

The courthouse was closed to the public this week as the result of COVID-19 infections and quarantines in county staff.

Johnson said there had been five cases in the courthouse facility.

“Fortunately no one has been hospitalized or anything else. They have had issues with it that most people have. .. Flue-like symptoms and a loss of taste and smell,” Johnson said. “... We are going to have to deal with this. It is here.”

The county has asked all employees in the courthouse to get tested.

“We are going to have to manage around it and with it,” Johnson said. “We can’ just shut down and hide. People have services do and we will get back open as fast as we can.”

It is possible that motor vehicle services will not open Monday, though other services will. Motor vehicle services may remain closed for another week.