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Jackson County Extends Mask Mandate As COVID-19 Keeps Slamming Local Hospitals

County Executive Frank White at podium.
File-Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
County Executive Frank White announcing on Aug. 4 that Jackson County would reinstate a mask order that took effect Monday, Aug. 9, 2021.

Jackson County voted to extend its indoor masking order until October following nearly an hour of pushback from residents.

Jackson County will be following Kansas City’s lead by extending its mask mandate for another month.

The Jackson County Legislature voted 6-3 on Monday morning to extend its existing indoor mask order until Oct. 7. The decision followed nearly an hour of impassioned testimony from residents opposing the mandate.

The request to extend the county’s mandate noted the continued high prevalence of COVID-19 and low vaccination rates across the region.

“Political focus is not my focus with this. The reason I introduced this today and am proud to stand with the county executive is because having seen friends die last year…. This is not something to say that it is not real, because it is. We've seen it up close,” said Jalen Anderson, a legislator from Blue Springs.

The Jackson County Health Department gave an update on the state of COVID in the region, stating that all Missouri counties are reporting high transmission rates. According to the report, the county had 309 new cases per 100,000 people for the week of Aug. 15.

Jackson County Health Director Bridgette Shaffer said that’s a slight decline for the county, but it’s still three times the CDC’s threshold for high transmission.

Dr. Mark Steele, Truman Medical Centers/University Health’s Executive Chief Clinical Officer, said the health system is seeing a surge of COVID patients as the delta variant continues to spread.

“It's putting a lot of pressure on our beds and actually all the hospitals here locally. As we sit here today, five of the hospitals in the metro have high volume this morning because of how busy they are,” Steele said.

Steele said the system’s 61 COVID hospitalizations are predominantly unvaccinated individuals. Only 43% of Jackson County residents are fully vaccinated.

Many speakers spoke against the effectiveness of masking and downplayed the risks of COVID-19 in their public comments.

Others claimed the city’s mandate represented government overreach and noted that Gov. Mike Parson revoked his declaration of a statewide emergency on Friday that was put in place in March 2020.

“You're going to cause a revolution in the country if you don't pay attention to what the people want,” said Mark Jones, a Kansas City resident. “We're asking you to vote against this now that the governor has removed the emergency order. ”

Parson issued a replacement emergency declaration targeted at providing emergency support to the state’s strained health care system.

The move comes in the wake of a new Missouri law that restricts how long local governments can issue public health orders. Local governments can issue public health orders for no longer than 30 days when under a governor-issued state of emergency.

Orders may be extended more than once with a majority vote by the local governing body. If a state of emergency has not been issued, the order is limited to 21 days and requires a two-thirds vote for extension.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit earlier this month aimed at blocking Jackson County’s mask mandate. The lawsuit is similar to one Schmitt filed against Kansas City and St. Louis County, which also issued mask orders.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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