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Kansas City Extends Mask Mandate With Hospitals Full From COVID Surge

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Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Mayor Quinton Lucas talks with visitors at Manual Career Technical Center in late July.

“We have not kept this virus at bay,” one council member said, imploring people to wear masks and get vaccinated to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The Kansas City Council voted 10-2 Thursday to extend its indoor mask order to September 23, as COVID hospitalizations and deaths mount and the delta variant remains highly contagious.

“We have not kept this virus at bay,” said Councilwoman Andrea Bough, noting her frustration that vaccine hesitancy has allowed the virus to proliferate.

“Is the mask the best tool? Maybe not,” she said. “But until we reach the level of vaccinations and immunity that is required to stop the virus and more dangerous mutations, this is the best choice we have.”

The measure requires most people aged 5 and older to wear masks in indoor public venues, regardless of vaccination status. Studies have shown masks can reduce virus transmission indoors.

Council members Heather Hall and Brandon Ellington voted against the mandate, saying they believe in people exercising personal choice for their own health care.

Bough was emotional as she described the death of her 86-year-old mother, who tested positive for COVID-19 last Christmas in an assisted living facility in southeast Missouri, a region with no mask mandate.

“The image of my mother gasping for air is one that I will never forget,” said Bough, who noted that elected leaders must balance personal liberties against the need to protect public health and welfare.

The existing mask mandate was slated to expire Aug. 28. A new Missouri law restricts local governments from issuing public health orders for longer than 30 days, so a majority council vote was required.

Thursday’s council action followed a very raucous public hearing Wednesday night in which most people in attendance railed against any mask requirement and said they wouldn’t comply.

In Kansas City, only about 40% of residents are fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, the weekly average number of new coronavirus cases is the highest in almost six months, and local hospitals are nearly full. The vast majority of those who have been hospitalized or have died this summer have been unvaccinated.

The University of Kansas Health System says it’s expecting to hit a record number of patient transfer requests this month as hospitals across the region near capacity.  

Chief medical officer Dr. Steven Stites said Thursday the hospital is seeing about 100 transfer requests a day for both COVID and non-COVID patients but are taking in only a third of that number.

Noncompliance with the mask order can be reported to the Kansas City Health Department. An ordinance violation carries a fine of at least $25.

Kansas City is not alone in extending its mask requirements. The North Kansas City Council has extended its mask mandate until Sept. 25, and Prairie Village in Johnson County has a mask mandate through Sept. 30. Many local school districts are also requiring masks.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit earlier this month that aims to overturn Kansas City’s mask mandate. The lawsuit is virtually identical to a complaint he filed in St. Louis County.

Lynn Horsley is a freelance writer in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley.
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