• Last modified 664 days ago (July 29, 2020)


4 new cases lead Marion to require masks after county again delays

TUESDAY UPDATE — A 50th case, a woman in her 50s, was confirmed late Tuesday afternoon. Details in this week's print editions.

Staff writers

Hours after county commissioners once again delayed action on requiring face masks, four new COVID-19 cases were reported in Marion County. Mere moments later, the City of Marion stepped into the breach, bypassed the county, and involked its own mask requirement, virtually identical to what the county had sent back for a rewrite hours earlier.

In the 25 days since the county initially used newly legislated powers to overturn Governor Laura Kelly’s statewide order for masks, the county's total number of COVID-19 cases has increased almost fivefold — from 11 to 49.

The new cases identified just before the city acted Monday were a teenage boy, two women in their 40s, and a woman in her 60s. They bring to 14 the number of new cases reported in the past five days alone.

While the city's newly adopted rules contain many exceptions from a universal requirement to wear masks, they contain penalties, which will take effect Wednesday.

Failing to wear a mask when within six feet of others in a public place can result in fines of $25 for first offenses, $50 for second offenses, and $100 for third and subsequent offenses.

Removal of all penalties was a key reason county commissioners decided to delay action on their mask order Monday. Both the city's rules and the county's draft are based largely on rules already adopted in Sedgwick County.

City administrator Roger Holter prepared a draft of the city's go-it-alone order Friday, even before the county decided at a special meeting to instruct its health nurse, Diedre Serene, to prepare draft of a county mask requirement.

The city apparently was concerned that the county would not act. Earlier in the week, commissioners aligned 3-2 against reconsidering their rejection of the governor's mask requirement. At that time, the county had 34 cases — enough to sway two commissioners, Randy Dallke and Dave Crofoot, to favor masks.

The decisive third commissioner, Kent Becker, asked to have an ordinance drafted during a special meeting Friday, at which commissioners for technical reasons had to extend a COVID-19 disaster declaration. The draft did not pass Monday after Becker waivered on several key points. Commissioners Dianne Novak and Jonah Goering has been steadfast opponents of any mask order.

Commissioners will consider county counselor Brad Jantz’s revision of the draft at 9 a.m. Friday.

Meanwhile, in the City of Marion, rules more strigent that what the county is considering will have taken effect. A complete text of the new ordinance, confidentially made available to the newspaper before it was adopted, is available here.

Cases reported before Monday's four new ones were one involving a woman in her 20s on Sunday; two involving teen-age boys on Saturday, and a record five new cases on Thursday — two men in their 50s and 60s and three woman, one each in their 60s, 70s, and 80s.

A total of 12 of the county’s 45 cases remained active as of Monday morning, according to Serene. That means the victims still were exhibiting symptoms or undergoing treatment.

As bad as the rising number of cases might seem, the worst development of the week might have been Serene’s report on Wednesday confirming community spread of the virus.

Community spread is when no specific source of infection can be identified and a patient is presumed to have contracted the virus after ordinary, day-to-day exposure to someone in the local community who did not know he or she was sick.

Urging sick people to stay home or requiring only sick people to wear masks stops working when community spread is confirmed.

In such situations, experts strongly recommend that face masks be required in public whenever six-foot distancing is not possible.

A mask does not protect its wearer; it protects others from being infected by virus carried in breath expelled by those who don’t wear masks.

In statewide figures released before the four new cases were added Monday, Marion County was tied in 44th place among Kansas’s 105 counties in its rate of COVID-19 cases per 1,000 residents. The county’s rate was 3.9, up dramatically from 2.3 a week ago, when the county was 19 slots lower on the list, coming in in 63rd place.

With Monday’s new cases, the rate now will be 4.1 — 78.3% more than it was just a week ago.

Hardest-hit counties, as of Monday’s midday totals, are Ford (Dodge City), with 61.7 cases per 1,000 residents; Seward (Liberal), 50.4; Finney (Garden City), 44.6; and Wyandotte (Kansas City), 25.9.

Among neighboring counties or counties frequently visited by Marion County residents, Lyon (Emporia) had the highest infection rate Friday, 18.3 per 1,000 residents. Sedgwick (Wichita) was next at 7.4; Saline (Salina), 5.7; McPherson, 4.4; and Harvey (Newton), 4.2.

Other regional counties all had lower infection rates than Marion: Reno (Hutchinson), 3.5; Butler (El Dorado), 2.8; Chase (Cottonwood Falls), 2.3; Dickinson (Herington and Abilene), 1.9; and Morris (Council Grove), 1.2.

Last modified July 29, 2020