Gov. Kelly issues statewide mask protocol, but gives Kansas counties a choice on details

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Gov. Laura Kelly is giving Kansas counties an option when it comes to face masks: make their own order or adopt her new statewide protocols.

Kelly is issuing a new executive order that details what she believes should be “a standard for Kansas” on face mask protocols.

The Democratic governor already issued a statewide mask mandate in July, but state law allowed the 105 counties in Kansas to opt out — and most did. Now, under Kelly’s new order, she’s giving counties that still don’t have a policy on face masks another chance.

Leaders in these Kansas counties have one week to create their own face mask order. If they don’t, Kelly said, they will automatically be opted in to the protocols set in her new order.

It will take effect Nov. 25.

Under Kelly’s new order, anyone in Kansas must wear a mask under the following circumstances:

  • when inside or in line to enter an indoor public place.
  • when getting health care services, such as a hospital, pharmacy, medical clinic, doctor’s office or dental office.
  • when waiting for or riding on public transportation or when in a taxi, private car service or ride sharing service.
  • when outdoors in public places where 6 feet of social distancing cannot be maintained (except for infrequent or incidental moments of closer proximity).

Additionally, all Kansas businesses must require all employees, customers, visitors or members of the public to wear a face mask under the following circumstances:

  • when employees are working in any space visited by customers or members of the public, regardless of whether anyone from the public is present at the time.
  • when employees are working in any space where food is prepared or packaged for sale
    or distribution to others.
  • when employees are working in or walking through common areas, such as hallways,
    stairways, elevators, and parking facilities.
  • when customers or members of the public are in a facility managed by the business or organization.
  • when employees are in any room or enclosed area where other people are present and are unable to maintain a 6-foot distance distance (except for infrequent or incidental moments of closer proximity).

There are some exemptions for some people, such children 5 and under, those with medical conditions or disabilities, and those who are seated and eating and drinking at a restaurant.

The new order does not apply to counties that are already enforcing Kelly’s initial mask mandate, such as Johnson and Wyandotte counties, or to other counties that have since enacted their own mask order for public spaces.

However, the same state law that allowed counties to opt out in July still applies. County commissions could vote to opt out once again.

But Kelly said she’s not worried about that. She’s seen more and more local leaders come around to mask mandates as COVID-19 cases climb. In the past two weeks, at least a dozen Kansas counties have tightened their coronavirus restrictions.

The governor has promised publicly that she won’t shut down businesses statewide again, as she did for five weeks in the spring. The Republican-controlled Legislature also forced her in June to accept local control over mask mandates, restrictions on businesses and limits on public gatherings.

Kelly’s announcement comes as Kansas again reported another record seven-day increase in new cases.

The state health department data showed that Kansas averaged 2,767 new confirmed and probable coronavirus cases a day for the seven days ending Wednesday. That’s slightly above the previous record of 2,741, for the seven days ending Monday.

Dr. Lee Norman, the state health department’s head, said a system that he likened to air traffic control for coronavirus patients is being put in place so nurses from rural hospitals can make a single call to find a larger hospital that can take their sickest patients. In some cases, nursing and doctors have been spending up to eight hours looking for a large hospital with an opening.

But Norman said these rural communities can’t leave it entirely to the state to help.

“Number one, they need to help themselves,” he said during a call with officials from the University of Kansas Hospital. “They have been, I think, very slow to come on board with the anticontagion measures that we know work.”

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