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Hillsboro ups ante as county folds

Staff writer

A day after county commissioners reluctantly approved a governor’s order requiring face coverings in public, Hillsboro council members passed their own mask ordinance, which unlike the county’s has penalties for those who don’t comply.

People who do not wear masks in public places can be fined $25, $50, or $100. The owner of a business where employees don’t wear masks can be fined, too.

Mayor Lou Thurston said the city needed to pass its own ordinance because the governor’s executive order, approved Monday by county commissioners, had no enforcement clause.

“That is no better than what we had before,” Thurston said. “I am firmly behind this ordinance.”

Councilman Renee Gehring, married to county commission chairman Jonah Gehring, cast the sole vote against the ordinance.

When council members were polled, she voted, “no, because we already have a state mandate in effect.”

Councilmen Byron McCarty, Brent Driggers, and David Loewen voted in favor.

“I know this has been an extremely challenging issue to deal with, but this has been a challenging time,” Thurston said. “I’ve heard from a variety of people in the medical area who support this action. This is about getting people to do the right thing.”

Hillsboro’s ordinance will go into effect Dec. 2 and remains in effect through Jan. 26.

Hillsboro plans to enforce the ordinance.

It took county commissioners just two minutes Monday to sign off on Gov. Laura Kelly’s mask mandate after five months of refusing to act even as COVID-19 cases in the county soared.

The governor’s order, effective today even in counties like Marion that opted out of an earlier mask mandate, allows counties to modify the order, which commissioners declined to do.

Commissioner Kent Becker said Monday commissioners’ earlier refusal to enact a mandate despite pleas from county residents, medical practitioners, and the health department, “has never been political.”

“It was about getting the citizenry of Marion County to take personal responsibility to wear their masks, to do the social distancing, so this is not political,” Becker said.

Gehring said some sort of action was needed because hospitals are full and medical staff are being overwhelmed.

Both of Wichita’s hospitals and Hutchinson’s regional medical center hit critical capacity four weeks ago and have been sending patients elsewhere. Only 37 staffed intensive care beds are left among 30 hospitals in the region. They are now caring for 433 patients confirmed or suspected to be sick with the virus in the region, Kansas Hospital Association reported Monday.

“I strongly support mask- wearing,” commissioner David Crofoot said. “Just this weekend I lost two friends.”

His two friends who died lived out of state.

Crofoot and commissioner Randy Dallke had unsuccessfully attempted to get their fellow commissioners to approve a mask mandate before the governor forced their hand.

The governor’s order requires face coverings be worn by people inside or in line to enter any public place or business; obtaining health care services; waiting on or riding public transportation; or outdoors or inside public spaces and unable to maintain six feet of distance.

Businesses or organizations must require employees, customers, visitors, or members of the public to wear face coverings when they are working in a space visited by members of the public, regardless of whether anyone from the public is present at the time. Face masks also are required in areas where food is prepared or packaged for sale or in any space where other people are present and unable to maintain a six-foot distance.

Exempt from the order are children 5 and younger; people with a medical condition or disability making masks ill-advised, people communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, people for whom a face covering would create a work-related risk, those who are obtaining a service for which temporary removal of the covering is necessary, people seated at a restaurant, athletes engaged in an organized sports activity, and people engaged in an activity that cannot be safely conducted while wearing a face covering.

State law allows counties to enact less or more stringent orders, but counties cannot opt out of having a mandate.

Monday’s approval of the governor’s mandate came in stark contrast to the commissioners’ line-by-line review of it Friday. In that session, Gehring, Becker, and commissioner Dianne Novak complained but ultimately decided there was nothing they can do about it.

Novak, as usual, didn’t wear a mask. When Crofoot commented about Novak’s lack of a mask, she told him she had a doctor’s note exempting her from wearing one.

“Show it to me,” Crofoot said.

Novak pulled a piece of paper out of her purse and handed it to him.

He encouraged her to show the slip of paper to a reporter from the Marion County Record.

“I’m not going to show that to her!” Novak retorted.

Dallke lamented that he saw no enforcement stipulation in the order.

“There’s no way I want to make the businesses enforce this thing,” Gehring responded.

Novak took offense to a stipulation that employees working in any space visited by customers must wear a mask regardless of whether anyone from the public was present.

“That’s just asinine,” Novak said.

Last week the city of Goessel, tired of the county’s ongoing refusal to pass a mask ordinance, passed its own ordinance with the same $25, $50, and $100 fines as the Hillsboro ordinance imposes.

Marion passed a mask ordinance in August. It carries penalties of $25, $50, and $100, but police have been instructed not to cite those ignoring the requirement.

Last modified Nov. 25, 2020

 

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