LAWRENCE, Kan. — Douglas County has issued an emergency public health order, requiring face masks indoors once again.

The county let its previous mask order expire on Dec. 22 but urged residents to continue taking precautions over the holidays. 

But Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health reports that the 14-day moving average for COVID cases is at a record high with 89 cases per day. As of Jan. 3, there were over 1,500 active cases in the county.

Lawrence Memorial Hospital CEO Russ Johnson said they expect patient numbers to increase to levels Douglas County hasn’t seen since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.

It all comes while staffing has been a struggle for Lawrence Memorial and hospitals across the country.

“Every hospital’s ability to respond in the coming weeks and months will be limited not by supplies or number of beds available for patients, but by the staff members and providers able to care for them,” Johnson said.

Douglas County’s mask order applies to everyone age 2 and older in public spaces.

It goes into effect Friday, Jan. 7 and will be in place through at least Jan. 12. That’s when the Douglas County Commission will meet to discuss extending the mask mandate for about 30 days or rescinding the order.

Lawrence Memorial doctors aren’t the only ones calling for people to mask up.

On Wednesday, doctors at Children’s Mercy Hospital and several other hospitals across Kansas and Missouri urged schools to require masks for students and staff.

The Kansas City area is in what health officials call “the most severe surge since the pandemic began.” But despite the rise in COVID-19 cases, several local school districts have dropped mask mandates.

“We are putting the plea out to schools, help us help you,” said Dr. Jennifer Watts. chief emergency management medical officer with Children’s Mercy. “Help us take care of the kids that actually need the hospital, that are extremely sick, but then help us help you keep the kids safe, too.”

Watts said it’s imperative that schools bring face coverings back — immediately.

“I don’t think this is going to be forever,” Watts said, “but help get us through the winter season. Get us through this surge and then we can readdress it after that.”

Children’s Mercy Hospital recently marked the highest number of COVID patients they’ve seen in this pandemic. Thirty children were in the hospital with COVID-19 Tuesday, a third of them in the ICU.

Kansas City area doctors said our safety is in danger if we don’t get this turned around.

“We know that masks are the one thing that can help bend the curve,” said Dr. Steve Stites with the University of Kansas Hospital.

Watts said they’re expecting the number of COVID cases and other respiratory viruses to increase over the upcoming weeks. January and February are their busy winter months.

On top of more hospitalizations, COVID burnout, exposures and sickness have caused staffing shortages.

Watts said they’re creatively staffing the Trauma Center to continue accepting regular patients.

“That includes your normal kids that get into car accidents, that includes your children that have sledding accidents when it snows again tonight,” Watts said, “that includes all of our childhood injuries that are purely accidental that happen to normal healthy kids.”

Watts doesn’t want to get to point where they can no longer accept traumas because of an increase in COVID patients.

Doctors are scared where this surge is going to take them in the next few weeks.

Watts said, one sure way to slow all respiratory viruses, including COVID, is to require masks in schools and, if able, get your family vaccinated.

“We want kids in school,” Watts said, “and the best way we can do that is to keep masks on.”

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