OLATHE, Kan. — On Thursday, Johnson County became another jurisdiction in the metro to mandate wearing masks in public.
Public health officials there say they expected a rise in COVID-19 cases after the stay at home order ended, but not this many.
The mask mandate was not a unanimous vote by the Johnson County Board of Commissioners. Four were for it, two against and one abstaining from the vote. The yes votes convinced by testimony from county health officials who until Thursday did not support a mandate.
Johnson County Commissioners who voted for the mask mandate have been watching shutdowns happen in other places across the country and with a spike in cases in Johnson County, fear the same thing will happen here.
“We want to avoid that and I think our business community also wants to avoid that,” said Chairman of the Johnson County Board of Commissioners, Ed Eilert.
The vast majority of people showing up at the Johnson County Board of Commissioners emergency meeting Thursday for public comment were against a mask mandate.
“Well you know I laugh at myself having to wear a mask,” said Andrew Cross, who brought a shark head costume head to the meeting.
Cross does not believe there is enough proof that masks prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The shark head is just to show the pointlessness of masks,” he said.
Emily Coleman also protested the mandate, to fight for her children’s right to decide what they put in their body.
“I believe that if we allow for mandated mask that there will eventually be a mandated vaccine and after that they will most likely be mandated microchips,” Coleman said.
Those against the mask mandate did not wear them and did not follow social distancing guidelines. A small number of people wearing masks stayed on the fringe of the group.
“For me it is just important that we consider everyone around us,” said 82-year-old Lorene Damewood. “Forget this personal freedom bit.”
Damewood said she has given up a lot during the COVID-19 crisis. She has not met her most recent great-grandchild, born March 17, and doesn’t know when that will happen. She and essential worker Teresa Wickersham were two of few showing up in favor of a mask mandate.
“I work as a cashier at a gas station and I do it because I don’t want to infect anybody should I get sick,” Wickersham said.
During the meeting, Johnson County Public Health Officer Dr. Joseph LeMaster compared what is happening with COVID-19 in Johnson County to a train wreck.
“The train has come off the rails. If we wait for the full force of the crash it will be too late to avoid much larger number of deaths in the county,” LeMaster testified.
That, from health experts in Johnson County, who as recently as this week did not think a mask mandate was necessary but changed their tune after what they call an intense spike. Last week there were about 60 new cases a day but that changed fast.
“When I got to work yesterday and I asked for how many new cases we had and it was 106, that’s uncontrolled,” said Dr. Sanmi Areola, Johnson County’s Director of Health. “That has to be controlled and that’s why we need to take even stronger actions right now.”
Mask protestor Dallas DuFriend was furious after the mask mandate passed. He is one who will not follow the rule and he and others like him will not face any penalty for non-compliance unless something changes with enforcement.
“I don’t live in a communist country but they want to run everything,” DuFriend said. “They’re coming more and more closer to it because of all these crybaby bedwetters.”
Johnson County will follow the Kansas mask mandate, which begins Friday. Monday, the county will set up a hotline for questions and complaints so people do not call 911.