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Kansas City, Kansas, ends its mask mandate early despite growing COVID-19 cases

Wyandotte County has the most cases of the coronavirus in Kansas, and nearly half of the virus-related deaths are black individuals.
Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City, Kansas, is the latest city in the region to drop on a mask requirement for those in public indoor spaces.

Commissioners with the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, put aside concerns from public health officials about growing COVID-19 cases when it voted to drop its mask mandate Thursday.

Despite pleas from public health experts, elected officials in Kansas City, Kansas, decided Thursday night to end the city's mask mandate early.

It's the latest municipality in the metropolitan area to repeal the requirement that people wear masks in indoor public places. Kansas City, Missouri, no longer requires masks except for schools, while Johnson County, Kansas, recommends masks but doesn’t require it.

On Thursday, commissioners with the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, narrowly approved the mask mandate repeal by a 6-4 vote. The requirement would have otherwise remained in place until Jan. 6.

The repeal went against the wishes of public health officials, who warned commissioners about the increase in new COVID-19 infections and the strain on hospitals in the region.

“I think to myself: Is this really the time to stop wearing masks?” said Erin Corriveau, deputy medical officer for Wyandotte County. “I think that answer is absolutely not.”

Juliann Van Liew, the public health director for the Unified Government, said fewer than half of residents in Kansas City, Kansas, were fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the omicron variant of COVID-19 was officially recorded in Kansas on Thursday. Research indicates that the omicron variant is more transmissible than earlier variants of COVID-19.

“We are seeing a dramatic rise in cases, not just in Wyandotte County, but across the metro,” Van Liew said. “We are concerned.”

The mask mandate repeal was proposed by newly-elected Unified Government Mayor Tyrone Garner in one of his first acts in office. Voting in favor of getting rid of the mask mandate were commissioners Melissa Bynum, Tom Burroughs, Brian McKiernan, Andrew Davis, Mike Kane and Chuck Stites.

Voting against were Angela Markley, Christian Ramierz, Harold Johnson and Gayle Townsend.

Several of the commissioners said that people in Kansas City, Kansas, do not heed mask orders anyways.

“It’s disturbing that even with our mandate that our numbers are up,” Bynum said. “I personally think that’s because people are not paying attention to the mandate anymore.”

Kane said people are tired of wearing masks.

“When we look around, who is really doing it?” Kane said. “Who is performing? Who is wearing a mask like they’re supposed to?”

McKiernan, who said the commission should vote to extend the mandate, still voted to rescind it.

“It’s that I’ve frankly given up hope in the face of some big obstacles and, ‘You ain’t the boss of me,’” he said.

Ramirez said he was conflicted in casting his vote, but favored keeping the mandate because of difficulties facing health officials dealing with sick patients.

Steve Vockrodt is the former investigative editor for the Midwest Newsroom.
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