Kansas Gov. Kelly extends state mask mandate, but order may not last past Thursday

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has issued an order aimed at encouraging Kansas counties to keep COVID-19 mask mandates. However, the policy seemed unlikely to survive Thursday.

Kelly’s order requires people to wear masks in indoor businesses and public spaces and outdoors when they can’t socially distance.

Counties have the final say, but her order means that county commissions must take a specific vote to opt out.

Eight top legislators have the power to revoke an order issued by the governor because of a pandemic. Those lawmakers planned to meet Thursday afternoon, and the six Republicans in the group have signaled they will revoke the mask policy.

On Tuesday, the House gave first-round approval to a resolution telling legislative leaders to revoke any order from Kelly for a statewide mask policy. Kelly issued such an order in November. It expired Wednesday.

The state has seen a sharp decline in new COVID-19 cases in recent months, and they’re now at levels seen last summer. Finch said during a brief House debate Tuesday on the resolution that no circumstances justify an “overreaching” order on masks from Kelly.

“What we do not need are more statewide mandates,” Finch said.

Kelly said in a statement that the resolution is “unnecessary” because counties can opt out her planned order and said Republicans are engaged in “political games.”

Fellow Democrats noted concerns about coronavirus variants. One potentially more infectious variant first identified in the United Kingdom is responsible for 64 cases in 11 of the state’s 105 counties so far, the state health department said.

“We’re not at the end of the pandemic yet,” said Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Kansas City, Kansas, Democrat. “I do absolutely agree that things are getting better, but let’s not put all the sacrifices that we’ve all made at risk.”

Two counties in the Kansas City area, Wyandotte and Leavenworth, have had cases of the variant, as has Sedgwick County, home to the state’s largest city of Wichita. Finney and Ford counties in southwest Kansas and Ellis County in northwest Kansas have had cases, and so have Crawford, Labette and Neosho counties in southeast Kansas.

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