Kansas Senate president views face-covering edict as April Fool’s joke
Note from the Times (article updated to add at 4:45 p.m. Thursday, April 1):
Douglas County’s mask mandate remains in place “until altered or amended by the County Commission,” according to a tweet from the county’s account Thursday.
“As such, it is the intent of the Local Health Officer to bring an order to the County Commission at a future meeting,” the tweet said. Find more information at the county’s COVID-19 hub. Check out the Times’ FAQs on vaccinations here.
TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly followed through with a promise to reissue Thursday a series of executive orders tied to the COVID-19 pandemic that included protocol for wearing a mask indoors at public places, on mass transit, at medical facilities and at businesses without opportunity to maintain 6-foot separation of people.
The Democratic governor signed 13 executive orders extending previous directives on occupational licensing, liquor sales, foreclosures and evictions and coronavirus testing and vaccinations. The list includes orders on unemployment insurance, income tax withholding and issuance of driver licenses and identification cards.
Without a doubt, the most controversial was Executive Order 21-14 outlining mask mandates applicable if cities or counties declined to take alternative action.
Republicans in the House and Senate pre-emptively denounced Kelly’s intention to reinstate an executive order on face coverings. In the Legislature, the wearing of masks has become politicized with most Republicans declining to wear a mask at the Capitol and most Democrats adhering to guidance to wear one.
“Since the pandemic began, my administration has been laser-focused on supporting and protecting our communities and our economy,” Kelly said. “Extending these orders will ensure that our efforts will not have been wasted, and that Kansans and businesses don’t lose the resources they need to get back to normal.”
Her executive orders related to the pandemic were revoked Wednesday in compliance with Senate Bill 40, a measure signed into law by the governor and adopted by the Legislature to restrict her authority in a public health crisis. The law allowed Kelly to issue new executive orders linked to COVID-19, but those would be open to review by the full Legislature or the Legislative Coordinating Council. The LCC is a Republican-dominated group of House and Senate members that acts whenever the Legislature wasn’t in session.
Even if the LCC rejected Kelly’s order on masks, a local jurisdiction could impose its own mandate on face coverings during the public-health emergency. Local officials also could opt out of Kelly’s directive on masks.
Senate President Ty Masterson and House Speaker Ron Ryckman said they would work expeditiously with members of the LCC to rescind any Kelly directive on masks. The Legislature adjourned until April 6.
On Wednesday, Masterson said he considered Kelly’s intention to reissue a mask order to potentially be the “most elaborate April Fool’s joke I’ve ever seen.”
Masterson, of Andover, said a mask order by the governor would be “unduly burdensome and unnecessary, particularly from a statewide perspective.” He rarely wears a mask at the Capitol, while the House speaker has chosen to wear a face covering while at work in the building.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported 45 of the state’s 105 counties have documented at least 1,000 cases of COVID-19 since March 2020. KDHE said 302,000 cases in Kansas have contributed to 9,700 hospitalizations and 4,913 deaths during the one-year pandemic.
Sen. Mary Ware, D-Wichita, said she found merit in wearing a mask because it could help shield other people from spread of a virus known to kill and cause serious health problems in some people.
“We are all sick to death of everything that COVID has brought,” she said. “And you know, I wear it constantly. Any time I am out of my house I have on a mask. Just to go into my apartment here I wear a mask. But the bottom line question for me is: How many deaths are acceptable? For me, one Kansan lost more is one too many.”
Under Kelly’s mask order, exceptions would be made for children under 5, the deaf or hard of hearing, people with a medical, mental health or disability condition, individuals seated at a restaurant, legislators, athletes and persons who cannot wear one while safely performing work duties.
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