Johnson County considers lifting mask mandate; health department won’t oppose decision

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N95 face mask (Getty Images)

OLATHE, Kan. — Johnson County Commissioners could allow the county’s mask mandate to expire next week. The issue is on the April 29 agenda for commissioners to review.

The current Public Health Order initiated on March 25 expires at 11:59 p.m. on April 30, 2021. Commissioners need to decide whether to approve a new order or simply allow the current order to end.

Thursday, commissioners questioned representatives from the Johnson County Health Department about the prevalence of coronavirus in the county ahead of next week’s decision.

Dr. Sanmi Areola, the Director of the Johnson County Health Department, told commissioners that approximately 45% of people age 16 and older who live in the county, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That rate will be even higher by the end of next week.

The March 25 order includes a goal of vaccinating about 50% of the qualified population with at least one dose before lifting the mask mandate. The vaccination rate is only one of several considerations involved in the decision to extend or end the mask mandate.

The county health department said it’s not against allowing the mandate to expire, but warns the danger hasn’t ended.

“The Department of Health and Environment will not oppose the move. DHE wants the Board of County Commissioners to be aware that masks are still very important to our COVID-19 response.  As a community, we are not close to achieving population immunity yet and people should be ready if and when more stringent actions are needed,” Areola said in a statement.

Commissioners could allow the current order to expire and then shift to “strongly recommending” mask wearing instead of mandating them. That’s an idea the health department said it would also support.

“As long as it is very clear to everyone that we have not achieved heard immunity and that we have a lot of work to do, and that wearing masks continue to be important, we’ll be supportive of
moving to strongly recommend masks,” Areola said. “There’s a lot of variables here that we can’t fully predict. And I think the prudent thing to do is for the board to be ready to take actions if and when they become necessary.”

Johnson County and the rest of the metro isn’t seeing the spike in cases that other parts of the country is experiencing. While that’s a good thing, experts said it could shift at anytime.

“If we let our guard down before we get more of our population immunized, we will have the potential to see an uptick. So things with COVID can change quickly,” Elizabeth Holzschuh, Director of Epidemiology for the Johnson County Health Department, said.

Health leaders cite studies and data that show masks slow the spread of coronaviruses and other illnesses. They also recommend people continue to social distance and wash their hands as much as possible.

They also say it’s critical for as many people as possible to get a vaccination. Walk-in clinics are still available if you haven’t found an appointment.

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