WARRENSBURG — Johnson County Community Health Services ended the county mask mandate effective at 12:01 a.m. Monday, Sept. 14.
In a release, JCCHS states a Public Health Advisory will however, remain in place until the state emergency is retracted. The advisory recommends people wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but lets organizations decide if they should be required. The advisory states businesses, organizations and other facilities — such as grocery stores, pharmacies, churches, community centers, gyms, libraries and schools — where the public are entering and social distancing cannot be maintained, may develop and implement additional precautionary measures.
“Because each organization is different from another, this advisory gives each location the opportunity to determine what we need to require to mitigate the risk in our doors,” JCCHS Community Outreach Coordinator Kerri Lewis said.
The mask mandate was first instituted July 6, after Johnson County saw an influx in positive cases. As of 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10, the county had 826 cases to date. Of those, 269 are still active, according to county health services. Total county deaths related to the virus stand at three.
Along with businesses and organizations, Lewis said school districts are allowed to make their own decisions regarding precautions that will be taken at their individual facilities.
“Every business is different, every school district is different,” Lewis said. “If requiring a face covering for your particular business or your classroom is another piece of the layered approach to mitigate the risk, you have the right to say masks are required. If you can get folks in there to social distance or you want to limit the number of people coming into your business, you can do that based on what your business needs are.”
Lewis added that JCCHS worked to provide guidance to county school districts as they prepared to reopen and will continue to work with schools while the public health advisory is in place.
Lewis said when the JCCHS Board was making this decision, they took into account factors such as current county infection numbers and risk factors.
While the mask mandate is expiring, the county is not seeing a complete stop in cases, instead it continues to see positive case growth in those ages 18 to 24, Lewis said.
“We know that some of the hot spots include a lot of large gatherings, potential parties, those types of opportunities where that age group is getting together and are not social distancing, not wearing face coverings at those times when its most important to do so,” she said.
While critics question ending a mask mandate when youth cases continue, saying the switch seems counterintuitive, the public health official said the goal of the advisory is to put the focus of social accountability and responsibility on the individual. In addition, the hope is that without a mask mandate people will be mindful of all prevention strategies, not just mask wearing.
“We know folks want to do the right thing. When prompted and given the opportunity to make those choices, our community members are doing that,” Lewis said. “We’re giving everyone that opportunity for personal responsibility, protecting each other and doing the right thing by saying, ‘Maybe I don’t need to go to that party, maybe I need to stay home and not go out to eat’ or ‘Maybe I need to be more mindful of social distancing when I go to the store and wear my face covering because I’m going to be in there with folks that I don’t know.’”
JCCHS states a face covering should not replace social distancing, but be used as an additional layer of protection. Best practice recommendations state that individuals should wear face coverings in public settings when around people outside of their household, especially when social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
JCCHS sates face coverings help prevent individuals who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others, and mask are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by individuals in public settings.