Wyandotte County has ordered people to wear masks in public, beginning at 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 30.
The mandatory health order was issued to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Wyandotte County, according to the Unified Government Health Department. Wyandotte County is currently in Phase 3 of the Ad Astra reopening plan, at least until July 6. There is no end date on the mask-wearing order, but it will be up to local health officials to decide when to lift it.
“The seven-day rolling average of positive cases continues to be on the upswing,” said Dr. Allen Greiner, chief medical officer of the Unified Government Public Health Department, in a news release. “This upswing coincides with the reopening of businesses and other venues as we try to get our community’s economy re-started after the shutdown earlier this year. One of the most important things the public can do to help slow the spread of COVID-19 is to wear masks in public. But for this effort to be effective, everyone must participate to protect the overall health of the entire community, not just their own health.”
The primary purpose of a mask is to protect others in case a person may be carrying the virus – even if the mask wearer doesn’t have symptoms, according to a spokesman. If everyone wears masks, everyone is helping protect one another, and especially protect those most vulnerable to serious illness, the spokesman stated.
“While our community has done a terrific job of helping slow the initial spread of the pandemic, like so many other areas around the country Wyandotte County has experienced a recent spike in the number of COVID-19 cases,” Mayor David Alvey said. “In an effort to continue the reopening of our community, we must continue to follow and adhere to the advice of medical experts. As such, starting next week Wyandotte County health officials will require individuals to wear masks in public to slow and contain the further spread of this virus. This is a simple, yet effective measure to protect our families, friends, and our most vulnerable, and will help allow our community and local businesses to remain open and return to normal as quickly as possible.”
According to a UG Health Department spokesman, the masks will be required in public, indoor spaces, including workplaces, businesses and places of worship, and in some outdoor spaces.
People are required to wear a mask covering the nose and mouth when in a public, outdoor space, except for socially distanced outdoor exercise, according to the spokesman.
The mask-wearing order also applies to places such as community centers and libraries.
The mask order also will be in effect for public transportation, taxis and ride-sharing, bus stops, sidewalks, parks, playgrounds, farmers markets, restaurant and bar patio seating.
Late Friday afternoon, UG officials joined with Kansas City, Missouri, officials in a gathering in Missouri to announce new mask-wearing ordinances. A Health Department spokesman said some other communities in the metro area are “strongly encouraging” residents to wear masks. Health departments in the metropolitan area issued a joint statement Friday about the importance of wearing masks.
According to a news release from the Health Department, masks will not be required when people are only with others they live with, not when driving alone, exercising alone or exercising with others they live with, and not when they can absolutely guarantee they will be able to maintain at least 6 feet of social distancing from others.
Masks are not required within an individual’s solitary workplace, such as an office where the individual is alone, according to the news release.
The mask ordinance also exempts deaf persons, and also children younger than 5, along with persons with certain medical conditions that prevent wearing a mask. Children who are younger than 2 should never wear a mask, according to the Health Department.
Wearing a mask does not exempt people from social distancing or hygiene, according to the spokesman. Residents should wash their hands several times a day with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time, according to a spokesman.
“It’s the combination of these actions that has proven effective at helping us slow and contain the spread of COVID-19,” Dr. Greiner said. “That’s important for two reasons – it protects the health of everyone in our community, especially those most vulnerable to a serious infection from COVID-19. Secondly, it helps prevent our healthcare system from being overwhelmed.”
As Health Department officials pointed out, even individuals who feel fine or may not feel they are at risk from a COVID-19 infection should take this health order seriously and wear masks in public, because they could be a danger to others in the community.
“It’s vitally important that everyone in our community take the increasing spread of COVID-19 seriously and wear a mask when in public,” said Dr. Erin Corriveau, deputy medical officer with the Unified Government Public Health Department. “Even people who feel fine right now might be able to infect several people a day with COVID-19. We have solid evidence that people who develop symptoms from COVID-19 can be infectious for up to two days before their symptoms begin. We also know that some infected individuals never feel symptoms at all, but are still able to spread the virus. By the time illness hits, some individuals may have already infected several other members of the community. That’s why it’s so important for everyone to wear masks, practice social distancing, and wash hands, even if feeling well.”
The UG Health Department recently issued more guidance documents for education, nursing homes, businesses and churches. The church guidance document, for example, says that people must wear masks while inside the church, and they can take them off briefly for communion, then put them back on again. The guidance documents are online at wycokck.org/COVID-19.
More information about mask-wearing
According to the Health Department, the new local health order requires:
• Individuals are required to wear a mask covering the nose and mouth when in a public, indoor space (including a workplace, business, or place of worship).
• Masks should be carefully positioned over the mouth and nose when it is put on, in a manner to avoid touching or readjusting the mask until it is removed.
• Masks are not required inside a solitary, enclosed workspace such as within an individual’s solitary office.
• Individuals are required to wear a mask covering the nose and mouth when in a public, outdoor space (with the exception of socially-distanced outdoor exercise).
• This includes all outdoor public gatherings such as bus stops, farmers markets, places of worship and restaurant bar or patio seating areas.
• Masks are not required when eating or drinking, but individuals should remain socially distanced and are required to wear a face mask before and following eating.
• Washing your hands is encouraged before taking masks off and prior to putting them back on.
• Individuals with medical conditions must wear a full face shield covering the mouth, nose and eyes as an alternative to a face mask (face shields have a piece of hard, clear plastic that sits in front of the face; these are often worn by healthcare workers in addition to other protective equipment)
In addition to the requirements listed in the order, the Health Department staff offered tips about masks and cloth face coverings:
• Wear a mask or cloth face covering appropriately (it must cover both your mouth and nose)
• Don’t touch your mask or your face. If you need to adjust your mask, clean your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer before and after touching your mask.
• Cloth face coverings that you can make with items around your home are effective at helping reduce the spread of COVID-19. You do not need a surgical mask or other medical-grade mask, and it is best to reserve those supplies for healthcare workers.
• Learn about cloth face covering recommendations, including how to make your own mask at home, at cdc.gov/COVID19.
Janell Friesen, a Health Department spokesman, said that any type of mask or cloth face covering that covers the mouth and nose is going to be acceptable, especially for the general public. Those who work in the health care field may need specific types of medical masks. The N95 masks in general are for those who work in the health care field or other fields where that mask is required.
If a company has already issued masks to its workers to wear while working, those would be acceptable under this health order, she said. Businesses also should encourage anyone coming into the business to wear masks, as well, she added.
In sports, people should follow the guidelines of the phase they are currently in, as to how venues may operate, she said.
Anyone in a gathering with a large number of people should be wearing a mask as well as keeping at least 6 feet apart, she said. There are restrictions on the size of the gathering that are listed in the Ad Astra plan under the phase they are currently in, she added.
People on sidewalks should be wearing masks, according to the new health order, and that is especially important if there is foot traffic on the sidewalk, according to the spokesman.
The health order says people in parks should be wearing masks, also. That is important where they are around others, according to the spokesman. The health order has an exception for outdoor exercise for people who are by themselves or with others from their own households. They should be able to absolutely guarantee that they are going to be by themselves, she added.
“It’s a good idea to have a mask with you going out,” the spokesman said. Have the mask ready in case someone unexpectedly comes by. While having a mask with you is not specifically written into the order, it’s a tip for people to be prepared, according to the spokesman.
When going out to restaurants, people should wear masks as they enter the building. They can take the mask off when they are actively eating or drinking, according to the spokesman. Then they can put the mask back on as soon as they are finished. People should clean their hands before and after they touch their masks, she added.
The spokesman said there are some organizations that are sewing masks and donating them to health departments and other organizations. She said the Health Department will be looking at ways to make masks more accessible.
She added there are ways to make masks from old household items, such as an old T-shirt, turning it into a mask.
The CDC website contains instructions on how to make a mask, including instructions for a sewn mask and instructions for a no-sew mask. Those directions are at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-make-cloth-face-covering.html.
The Health Department spokesman said response from the public has been mixed. There are people who are grateful that measures are being taken to protect people in the community. Then, others are not happy about the idea of having to wear the masks, as they may find them uncomfortable, she said.
The Health Department is seeing positive cases on the rise throughout the community, and it really doesn’t want to have to go backwards and return to a previous phase, she said. Wearing masks is a way for people to go about their day-to-day activities, allowing businesses to continue to operate, and keep the economy going while curbing the spread of COVID-19, she said.
The news release about mask-wearing does not mention enforcement; however the health order says that “any sheriff, deputy sheriff or other law enforcement officer of any political subdivision within Wyandotte County, Kansas is hereby ordered to assist in the execution or enforcement of this Order, as amended or modified, as well as all other orders of the Local Health Officer not otherwise rescinded or superseded.”
A Health Department spokesman said that the main focus right now is letting people know about the order and educating them on the importance of wearing a mask.
Additional enforcement measures could be added later if needed, the spokesman said, but they really want people to voluntarily do this in order to protect the people around them.
Another key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Wyandotte County is testing, according to Drs. Greiner and Corriveau.
“We have worked with the members of the Health Equity Task Force to make testing more accessible for all members of the community throughout Wyandotte County,” Dr. Corriveau said. “This testing is free for anyone who lives or works in Wyandotte County and is provided regardless of the individual’s immigration status, health coverage, or ability to pay.”
Persons should get tested for COVID-19 if they develop any symptoms, such as:
• Dry cough
• Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
• Muscle or body aches
• Runny nose
• Sore throat
• New loss of taste or smell
Persons should also get tested if they have been exposed to COVID-19 through close contact (within six feet for at least 10 minutes) with someone who has tested positive or through association with a known outbreak.
Testing is available for free to people who live or work in Wyandotte County at multiple community locations, including the Health Department and a rotating weekly schedule of “pop-up” sites coordinated by the Wyandotte County Health Equity Task Force. Find the latest testing schedule and locations at wycokck.org/COVID-19 or by calling 3-1-1.
This story has been updated.