Douglas County Commissioners allow mask mandate to expire in favor of public health guidance

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Douglas County on Thursday will become one of the last Kansas counties to allow its mask mandate to expire, as county commissioners decided Wednesday to allow “strong recommendations” from local health officials to become the guiding force of managing the COVID-19 pandemic moving forward.

The move required no vote of the commission, as there is no public health order taking the place of the one which included a mask mandate, though all three county commissioners expressed more comfort in allowing a mandate to expire than they did a week ago.

“Based on what I’ve heard tonight, I’m really confident in where we’re going and the recommendations or proposal that we have from our health department,” Commissioner Patrick Kelly said Wednesday.

The recommendations from Douglas County health officials that will go into effect Thursday are fairly simple: anyone 2 years of age or older wear a mask when indoors, or when outdoors in situations where social distancing isn’t possible. The biggest change, though, is that officials will no longer have the ability to sanction individuals or organizations not following mask guidance — a power they were previously afforded under state law when public health orders were in place.

“We based our orders and recommendations on the best available science. We’ve put the health and safety of Douglas County at the forefront of all of our decisions,” Dr. Thomas Marcellino, Douglas County’s health officer, told commissioners Wednesday. “As we’ve learned more about this virus, we’ve come to this point of the pandemic, where I think the widespread availability of an efficacious vaccine, the local and national decline in case rates, it’s now put our county in a position to lift our local order.”

“I just don’t feel (a new order is) necessary at this time,” he continued. “It might be necessary in the future, but at this point in time we’re able to move forward.”

Marcellino, along with other health officers present at Wednesday’s meeting, stressed that the county continues to recommend mask-wearing whenever possible and that everyone who is able receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The next two weeks, three weeks, four weeks in this country are really going to be an experiment to determine whether or not it’s going to work to give up some of these mandates that we’ve had,” he said. “But the risk profile of our community has diminished compared to where it was a month ago, two months ago, three months ago. And every vaccine we give, we improve that profile.”

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