Douglas County updates health order allowing mask mandate to expire

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Douglas County, including Lawrence, has allowed its long-standing mask mandate to expire.

On Wednesday, Douglas County commissioners chose not to renew their public health order and instead opted to offer “strong recommendations.”

One of those recommendations is for people to continue wearing masks but now people will have more discretion in mask usage and businesses will have more discretion in mask requirements.

The basic recommendations from Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health officials match the previous health order which included masking, social distancing, and capacity guidelines.

Health officials say they are making those recommendations because it is difficult to tell who is vaccinated and who is not.

But also these are recommendations and not rules or mandates. Lots of people are expecting some changes.

Walking on Massachusetts Street, Grace Needham said she will likely continue wearing a mask even if they are not required.

“My family unfortunately all got COVID at the same time. And I think like, I don’t know, we all kind of lived it,” Needham said.

“We know what we went through so we know that we don’t really want anyone else to go through it. Especially if it’s like our fault, you know?” Needham said.

But not everyone is in agreement. R.B. Hirsch was visiting Lawrence. He said he is ready to stop wearing masks.

“It really influences my desire to purchase something from these stores,” Hirsch said.

“There’s no reason to make a scene, right? Just, let’s say for instance, I don’t want to wear the mask. Well, OK. So I’ll just avoid that particular store. But here in Lawrence obviously it’s a little different story than other parts of the country,” Hirsch said.

Until now.

Douglas County commissioners allowed their public health order to expire, citing trust for community members and acknowledging personal risk in decision-making for those who choose not to get vaccinated.

“We’ve thoughtfully considered additional orders and orders that are specific to specific sectors of the population and I just don’t feel like that is necessary at this time. It might be necessary in the future but I think at this point we’re able to move forward,” Dr. Thomas Marcellino, Health Officer for LDC Public Health, said.

Businesses and restaurants are still free to make their own mask policies. School, corrections, homeless, and healthcare facilities also still have the power to make their own decisions on mask policy.

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