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Commission rejects multiple mask pleas

Staff writer

“That is a political action,” the county health consultant told commissioners during Monday’s meeting. “I’m going to go now. Goodbye.”

Don Hodson’s words followed commissioners’ split 3-2 vote refusing to impose a mask mandate to curb exponential growth in the county’s COVID cases despite:

  • An 89-signature petition presented at the beginning of the meeting calling for a mask mandate.
  • Being told by the county health nurse that a mask mandate is necessary because the number of COVID-19 patients in the county is at an all-time high and rising.
  • A letter from 27 physicians, nurse practitioners, and physicians’ assistants calling upon them as the county health board to issue a mask mandate.
  • Hodson taking time to try to debunk commissioners’ misunderstandings about masks.
  • Commissioners having voted Friday to once again lock doors at the courthouse to protect county employees from COVID.

When commissioners went into an executive session soon after that decision, a county resident watching online phoned the newspaper to inquire about recalling county commissioners, saying they failed to exercise their statutory requirement to consult with the county health director before making such a decision.

The only commissioner in a position to be recalled is Kent Becker. State law does not allow a recall during the last 180 or first 120 days of a commissioner’s term.Randy Dallke, who proposed a mandate calling for masks to be worn any time two or more people are together in a public place, and David Crofoot, who seconded the motion after telling the commission the public is looking to them for leadership, voted in favor. Dallke and Crofoot wore masks during the meeting.

Jonah Gehring, Kent Becker, and Dianne Novak voted against the mandate. They did not wear masks during the meeting.

County health department director Diedre Serene said the county had 373 positive COVID tests, 94 active cases, one patient hospitalized, and two deaths.

Serene said the deaths, one recent and one older, were not known to her until Monday morning.

Marion County Record owner Eric Meyer, speaking as the owner of a local business, gave commissioners a copy of a petition posted online less than 48 hours earlier that already had 89 signatures. Many signers appealed to commissioners to impose the mandate.

“As a business owner, I believe it is imperative to impose a mask ordinance and enforce it,” Meyer said.

Signers were allowed to comment on their reasons for joining the petition, which Meyer said “speak for themselves.”

“It is time for county leadership to step up and mandate mask requirements,” one signer wrote.

“Personal responsibility seems to be failing to stop the community spread of this virus. Our government leaders need to act, even if it means you may not be re-elected,” another wrote.

“I will not shop in Marion anymore where one clerk in the store was the only one wearing a mask,” another wrote.

That thought was seconded by several other signers.

“I would like to shop locally, but will not as long as Marion Co. & the people out & about do not wear masks & take this seriously. I will shop in other counties that do have a mask mandate.”

“It would be nice to be able to shop locally again, but since people aren’t taking this seriously and aren’t wearing masks in stores I will not shop locally ’till there is a mask mandate. I am a daycare teacher and do not want to get my class sick and if I get it (which I don’t want!) my work will have to close for a time, so please take actions to make masks a requirement. I want to start shopping locally again but since people don’t wear masks I won’t,” wrote another.

“I am reluctant to patronize any business that does not require masks, nor go to any meeting where participants do not wear a mask,” another wrote.

Another respondent said:

“I would actually start shopping in Marion again if everyone were required to wear masks and social distance. It seems you are more worried about politics and those that think their rights are being trampled on instead of protecting the public. Some of those will threaten that they will take their business elsewhere, but those of us that do care about everyone’s well being, and are currently shopping elsewhere, will take their place.”

Others expressed concern about area hospitals becoming overloaded.

Intensive care units at Wichita hospitals have been full since Nov. 2 and physician Keck Hartman, infectious disease specialist at Hutchinson Regional Medical Center said it, too, was at critical capacity. All have been on diversion and are sending patients to other facilities.

Marion County patients have been transferred as far as Rock Regional Hospital in Derby.

“Our hospitals are becoming overwhelmed. Large hospitals are full. Small hospitals have no place to transfer Covid patients and not enough resources to care for patients that need ICU beds!” a registered nurse wrote.

“I respectfully ask you to mandate masks. I’m very concerned about the rising number of cases of Covid-19 and the strain that our healthcare system is experiencing. It’s time to act!!!”

“It is time county commissioners to step up and make a difference for the health of our county. Not making a comment on a letter urging for mask mandate at the last meeting tells me it is a political vote thing and we can see just how well this has played out all over the country,” another signer wrote.

“This is more important than taxes, roads, wind farms,” a signer said.

“Everyone in the hospital right now is behind the 8-ball,” Hodson told commissioners.

The medical providers in their letter to commissioners asked that a mandate be written to require masks for indoor public spaces and outdoor public spaces when six feet of distancing cannot be maintained in order to protect the communities.

Hodson said the hospitals are having a hard time finding larger hospitals able to accept patients in need of ventilators. St. Luke does have one ventilator, but the only person properly trained to use it is an anesthesiologist who is not always available.

Hodson said last week a patient at St. Luke had to wait four days to be taken to a larger hospital that could put him on a ventilator.

“The day he came in he already needed to go somewhere,” Hodson said. “They called everywhere and no one could take him, even Derby. Things like that are going to happen routinely within two weeks from now, I can guarantee you. That’s just not an option. We can’t get to that point.”

Hodson said someone shopping at a store in the county now has a five to 20% chance of being exposed. At this time everyone who goes in is being exposed, he said.

“The numbers would probably continue to rise for the next two or three weeks,” Hodson said. “The only responsible thing to do is wear a mask when you’re within six feet of someone.”

Dallke said he’d gotten a letter from a local rancher who said he shouldn’t have to wear a mask on his farm. The same rancher goes to a lot of eating places, Dallke said.

The crux of the matter is, if you aren’t somewhere you’re close to others, you don’t need a mask, Hodson said.

“It’s where you’re inside in re-circulated air,” he said.

Gehring said commissioners don’t have enough information to make a decision.

Serene asked whether commissioners would impose a mandate on portions of the county if they had more information.

“Would you do a mandate for Hillsboro and not for Lincolnville?” she asked.

Becker said that, from what he sees, people in Marion do not take a mask mandate seriously.

Gehring said facilities that require masks are “having huge upswings” in cases.

“You’re thinking that masks actually make the problem worse?” Hodson said.

“No, I’m saying if I wear a mask and go to that place, I might get it,” Gehring said.

Crofoot said five in his business have had COVID. Two got it internally at the office and the others got it elsewhere. He said nobody he knows has gotten it in a restaurant or school.

Becker complained that he’s seen “a lot of conflicting information” about the virus.

Hodson answered that there is a lot of misinformation online.

“Try a mask mandate for 30 days,” Amy Soyez texted commissioners. “Some people will not like it, but see how things respond. Then reevaluate.”

Novak said to expect people to wear a mask out in the country where they are outside “is asinine.”

Crofoot said no one is telling them to wear one when they’re outside.

“I’m not talking to you!” Novak retorted.

Crofoot said the county needs a mandate because the people need leadership and look to commissioners.

“Who’s going to enforce it?” Becker said.

“I think we’ve got to get the politics out of this,” Serene said.

Hodson said an ordinance would make it easier for businesses to put up signs requiring a mask.

Dallke asked if a recommendation would be the same as a mandate.

Hodson said a recommendation would be worthless.

Novak said if she walked into a business and was told she needed to wear a mask, she would walk out and do business elsewhere.

Dallke said the commission is the board of health.

“We have to do this,” he said. “I think it’s time for us as the county commission to step out of our bounds and have a mask mandate.”

Dallke said he’s concerned about his granddaughter.

“Only we can help slow this down,” Dallke said.

Becker said people know they have personal responsibility and “personal responsibility is what’s going to end this thing.”

“It is a personal responsibility, like you said, but it is the board of health that has to enforce it,” Serene said.

Serene said law enforcement tickets drivers who don’t wear seat belts.

“The reality in a pandemic is, you try to save the most lives that you can,” she said.

“Why is the Marion County Health Department director being ignored?” Peabody school superintendent Ron Traxson messaged the commission. “Why do we enforce seatbelt laws and speeding laws? Public safety.”

Crofoot said spectators at school sports events are wearing masks.

“I thought you were going to say they were exercising personal responsibility,” Novak said.

“They’re using common sense,” Crofoot said.

“If you’re going to wear a mask, you’re going to travel more,” Becker said.

Hodson said the public doesn’t understand that recommendations change because of new information about COVID.

“They think we should have known what’s going to happen,” he said. “They think somehow we’re just making things up as we go, and that’s not the case.”

Hodson said a vaccine “can’t get here fast enough” and vaccines available to the general public are several months away.

“If I had my way there would be an enforceable mask mandate and I wouldn’t have to stand in line at the grocery store behind someone without a mask,” he said.

He does suggest people take advantage of warmer days to open windows for air circulation.

“Luckily this is a nice time of year, you get some nice weather,” Hodson said. “People should open up and let some fresh air in, that would be good.”

State law gives Serene authority to ban any public gatherings without commissioner approval. It does not give her authority to impose a mask mandate or order a business closed.

Last modified Nov. 18, 2020

 

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