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Kansas City ends its mask mandate for most adults, but still requires them in schools

Kansas City removed its city-wide mask mandate, but people in school buildings must continue to wear masks.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City removed its city-wide mask mandate, but people in school buildings must continue to wear masks.

Kansas City Council on Thursday voted to stop mandating masks inside most public indoor spaces. However, masks will still be required in schools amid concerns that COVID-19 case numbers could jump back up during the holiday season.

Kansas City Council voted to dropped its mask mandate for most adults on Thursday, as COVID-19 case numbers drop across the region.

The city council voted 11 to 2 to amend the existing mask mandate to apply only inside school buildings and school buses through at least Dec. 2. Council members Brandon Ellington and Heather Hall voted against the measure.

Kanas City's mask mandate was set to expire on Thursday, Nov. 4. Under the updated ordinance, wearing face masks indoors in public venues is only encouraged.

The move puts Kansas City's guidance at odds with the Jackson County Legislature, which voted on Monday to extend the county mask mandate for another three weeks.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said that keeping masks in schools for at least another month will give younger children more time to get vaccinated, now that they’re eligible. This week, the CDC approved Pfizer's low-dose COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11, and doses will become available to Kansas City-area kids as soon as this weekend.

“The policy basis is to ensure that schools may operate as safely as possible, that persons inside of public or private school buildings or students from kindergarten up to and including 12th grade (that) are attending class will be protected,” Lucas said.

The Kansas City Health Department reported to a council committee on Wednesday that its community risk rating had dropped from the most severe level defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The city currently reports an infection rate of 99.9 new cases per 100,000 people, just below the CDC threshold for "high" spread, although the infection rate for Jackson County as a whole remains significantly higher.

Still, the health department’s interim director Frank Thompson said they’re recommending people continue to voluntarily wear their masks.

“We recognize that there's the potential, if everyone just takes their mask off and kind of goes back to business as usual, there's a chance for our numbers to trend back upwards,” Thompson said.

On Wednesday, council members Melissa Robinson and Eric Bunch expressed concerns about dropping the mask mandate on the cusp of the holiday season. Bunch said without a mandate in place, he fears that everyone will quit wearing masks like they did when the order was first rescinded in the spring.

Both Ellington and Hall have voted multiple times against extending Kansas City's mask mandate. Ellington said he did not think it made sense to continue asking children to mask up when they are at lower risk of severe disease.

Hall raised concerns that the mask requirement would be confusing for students in counties without mask mandates, but who attend schools that overlap Kansas City.

“I think that's very confusing and I just feel like we should stay in our lane and be a city government,” Hall said. “I feel like the state and school boards all need to mandate the school boards in the schools, not us.”

Lucas said that he's spoken with local district superintendents who requested to keep the masking requirement in schools, because doing so reduces quarantine times.

Schools owned or operated by a religious organization will be excluded from the order, an exception that city officials said is intended to avoid potential lawsuits.

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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