KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Jackson County Legislature withdrew a proposed mask ordinance that could have reinstated masking requirements in schools and on school buses Tuesday morning.
The measure, which would have required all students, staff and visitors to wear masks in school buildings in Jackson County, didn’t have the votes to pass on Tuesday. But the proposed ordinance could be revived in short-order.
Only eight legislators attended the meeting. Consistent mask supporter Ron Finley was absent, and that may have had something to do with the decision not to vote on bringing back the mask mandate.
During the meeting, Jackson County Executive Frank White said he supported a mask mandate because of the number of COVID cases in the county.
“I want to make sure that we understand the seriousness of kids and what’s happening with our kids in our schools,” White said.
The Jackson County Health Department also supported a mask mandate for schools due to the number of new cases and hospitalizations.
“The COVID-19 case rate for unvaccinated individuals was 2.45 times higher than that of vaccinated individuals overall,” Ray Dlugolecki, Jackson County Assistant Health Director, said. “Recently, we’ve seen the most cases that we’ve ever seen in children under the age of five.”
Dlugolecki also said the county has the highest percent positivity this far during the pandemic. He also pointed out that the number of hospitalizations jumped more than 9% over the past week.
“We’ve seen very early on in December roughly 15% positivity. Right now we’re at 35.5% as of last week’s data,” Dlugolecki said. “This will continue to increase again.”
He also pointed out that the percent positivity for school age children, particularly those 15 to 19 years old is over 40%.
However, those numbers haven’t swayed skeptics who are vehemently opposed to a mask mandate for all students.
Legislators allowed one person to speak against the idea of the mandate during the meeting.
Christi Johnson said the surging cases are not unique to schools, but are impacting every aspect of life in the Kansas City area right now.
“I am for freedom and letting parents decide what they want to put on their children’s faces,” Johnson said.
“The cloth masks are not working, and it’s been a couple of years now. If they worked they would have worked by now.”
Opponents also point to public health guidance, which now says cloth masks alone are the least effective at preventing the spread of the Omicron variant, when compared to double masking or KN-95 masks.
Johnson also said masks cause more harm than good for children, creating anxiety and saying masks can become dirty and unsanitary on younger kids’ faces.
Dlugolecki followed up and said although cloth masks offer the least amount of protection when it comes to masking, they’re better than doing nothing.
Sixth District Legislator Theresa Galvin also explained her own reasoning why the mask mandate should not move forward.
“It still had the last section of it still would impose a fine of $100-1,000 and imprisonment up to six months, which is crazy. You know, who are you going to throw in jail? My grandchildren or their teacher?” Galvin said.
But White said the proposal is being misrepresented to dangerous lengths.
“In the last seven days in Jackson County, we’ve lost 60 people to COVID. And that’s serious enough that we need to take this a lot more seriously than we have,” White said.
“Some districts have even asked parents to come in and teach because they don’t have enough staff. And then answering the call of the people in health care: our doctors, our overwhelmed hospitals,” White said.
Masking opponents don’t believe the problems are COVID-related.
“But some teachers are also taking a four-day weekend because of the holiday, and that we have low staff for substitute teachers,” Johnson said of the school closures happening in parts of Missouri and Kansas.
“I don’t believe that we are being overrun right now,” Johnson also said, referencing her mistrust of reports coming from regional hospitals.
The mandate wouldn’t have impacted schools in Kansas City or Independence, Missouri, because they have their own health departments and operate independently.
Kansas City, Missouri, schools already has a mask mandate in place for students and staff.
The Independence School District also reenacted its mask requirement beginning Tuesday, Jan. 18, for students and staff.