Prairie Village and Roeland Park extend their mask mandates another month
The cities of Prairie Village and Roeland Park extended their current citywide mask mandate through March 16, a month after the orders' original expiration dates. The unanimous votes by both city councils on Monday come as new COVID-19 cases have dropped sharply in Johnson County.
Both the Prairie Village and Roeland Park city councils on Monday night unanimously voted to extend their citywide mask mandates for another 30 days.
The decisions keep in place rule requiring individuals to wear masks in most publicly accessible places in both cities through at least March 16.
Two other cities — Fairway and Mission — also currently have mask orders in place, and those cities’ governing bodies are set to meet over the next week and could also opt to extend their mandates, as well.
The Prairie Village City Council unanimously approved a 30-day extension to its current citywide mask mandate.
Sanmi Areola, director of Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, told the city council that incidence and positivity rates — the two main metrics JCDHE looks at to evaluate the extent of spread in the community — are “dropping significantly” from early January peaks.
Areola said on Feb. 7, the incidence rate was 823 cases per 100,000 persons and the positivity rate was 18.8%. The incidence rate on Jan. 10 was 2,397 cases per 100,000 persons and the positivity rate was 31.6%, he said.
Despite these drops, Areola said, the incidence and positivity rates are still much higher than the highest pre-Omicron rates — an incidence rate of 457 and a positivity rate of 14.3%.
The current decline can be partially attributed to the collective efforts of cities like Prairie Village that enacted mask mandates, and others that distributed masks or testing kits, he said.
While JCDHE expects the rates to continue to decline over the next few weeks, Areola said, a “layered mitigation” approach, including mask-wearing, is still important.
“Just letting people know that we’re not out of the woods yet,” Areola said. “That the steps we’ve taken is part of why we’re seeing a change in trajectory and it’s very important for us to continue, on an individual level as well as a community level, to take all those mitigation steps so that we can keep the virus down.”
Several councilmembers expressed support for a mask mandate extension, and stated anecdotal evidence about widespread — though not universal — compliance to the mask mandate.
Councilmember Terrence Gallagher, though, said he’s witnessed violations of the mandate in both restaurants and grocery stores.
Gallagher supported the extension, but said he’s “holding [his] reservations.”
The city council did briefly discuss including a mask mandate item on each agenda in the event that ending the mandate early would be justified.
Some councilmembers expressed concern about the continued time and effort city staff put into preparing a mask mandate agenda item.
Mayor Eric Mikkelson confirmed after the unanimous vote that, whether or not it is an official agenda item, any councilmember who wishes to introduce a proposal to terminate the mandate early can do so at the city council’s next meeting on Feb. 22.
The Roeland Park City Council also voted unanimously Monday night to extend its face mask ordinance to March 16.
The ordinance went into effect Jan. 18. Like Prairie Village’s, it imposes a maximum fine of $25 for individuals who violate the order.
As with other mask mandates in the Kansas City area (including Prairie Village’s), exemptions to mask-wearing include:
- Children aged 5 and younger
- People with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing face coverings
- Deaf people and those communicating with them when seeing the mouth is needed
- People eating and drinking at a restaurant
Private residences, houses of worship and public and private schools are not covered by the ordinance.
The council voted 6-0 to extend the mandate’s expiration from Feb. 16 to March 16.
Ward 3 Councilmember Trisha Brauer and Ward 4 Councilmember Michael Rebne were absent.
Ward 2 Councilmember Benjamin Dickens said that the number of COVID-19 cases was showing “a very sharp downward trend nationally,” that if that trend continues over the next month, “I can’t find myself voting for yet another extension” and that the mask ordinance “is extremely difficult to enforce.”
Dickens paraphrased what he said was New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s recent comment that “we need to start managing COVID with the understanding that as a nation, most likely as a world, we’re not going to reach zero cases.”
“We have too many Americans here in Kansas and beyond who have chosen to ignore the science of vaccines for a zero-case situation to happen,” Dickens said.
Ward 3 Councilmember Kate Raglow said that because spring break starts March 16 for a majority of schools and many people travel during spring break, the city should track the number of new cases and positivity rates beyond that date.
Hospitalizations caused by COVID “into the 90th percentile are the unvaccinated, which is why I’m always beating that drum,” Dickens said. “Get your shots. Get your boosters.”
This story was originally published on the Shawnee Mission Post.