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Kansas City Council Extends Indoor Mask Mandate As COVID-19 Cases Rise In Children

Hand written sign with black letters behind glass reads: "Masks Required Upon Entrance!" A man's reflection can be seen in the glass door.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
A customer waits to enter Pizza 51, where a hand-written sign reminds patrons that masks are required when entering the restaurant.

The Kansas City Health Department says case numbers have decreased since the city reissued its mask mandate, but it's "not out of the woods yet."

Masks are still required indoors in Kansas City for at least another two weeks, following a vote by the city council Thursday.

The council voted 11-2 to extend the current mask mandate to Oct. 7, which aligns with Jackson County’s existing mask order. Jackson County also won a challenge to its mask mandate Thursday, when a judge upheld a temporary restraining order against Rae’s Café in Blue Springs, which has defied the county’s mask order.

In Kansas City, the council majority supported extending the mask order, with council members Heather Hall and Brandon Ellington the lone dissenters.

Ahead of the vote, councilwoman Katheryn Shields reminded her colleagues that the face coverings are not just to protect the wearer.

“One of the reasons we wear these masks, maybe the predominant reason, is not just to keep ourselves safe as individuals but to keep our society, our fellow citizens safe,” Shields said.

Kansas City is requiring anyone older than age 5 to wear a face covering indoors in public places, regardless of vaccination status. Health officials warn that removing masks now poses a serious risk to children under age 12, who currently are too young to get vaccinated.

At a city council committee meeting Wednesday, the Kansas City Health Department reported that case numbers and hospitalizations have decreased since the city reissued its mask mandate.

“We have seen some tapering off since the mask order was put in place, but we’re still not out of the woods yet,” said Frank Thompson, interim director of the city’s health department.

However, Thompson said that decline is only taking place in those over the age of 18, while case numbers in school-age children have increased significantly.

The city’s vaccination rate is also lagging with only about 44% of residents being fully vaccinated. At this pace, Thompson said the city will not reach a 60% vaccination rate until April 2022.

While local health systems are seeing a downtick in COVID-19 hospitalizations, capacity is still under pressure as they continue to face nursing shortages. Thompson says that's a concern as flu season approaches.

"Should we have a serious flu outbreak at the same time that we're continuing to deal with this pandemic, I'm not certain we have the capacity to deal with both," Thompson said.

The number of demonstrators protesting the mandate paled in comparison to last month’s raucous meeting. Still, a few stood in the back of city council chambers Wednesday, holding signs against the mandate and cheering for those who spoke against the mandate in public comment.

One speaker claimed the city’s mandate was “purely fear-based” and said masking wasn't effective. Another advocated for people to make their own choice on whether to mask up or not.

Rev. David McDaniel from Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City spoke in support of the council extending the order.

“Leadership is hard, especially in the midst of COVID-19, leadership is a lonely space. Know that we continue to support you as you lead the city,” McDaniel said. “Community is a collective group of individuals. We're not separate islands unto ourselves.”

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

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt filed a lawsuit last month aimed at blocking Kansas City’s mask mandate. The lawsuit is similar to ones Schmitt has since filed against Jackson County and Columbia Public School District, which have also issued mask orders.

Updated: September 23, 2021 at 5:44 PM CDT
This story was updated to reflect the city council's vote to extend the mask mandate until October 7.
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