KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Douglas County Commission met Wednesday to discuss a mask mandate.
After hours of discussion and public comment, the commission voted to implement a mask mandate that begins on Thursday and runs until Feb. 9.
The meeting was in response to an emergency mask mandate that was passed last week. It was up to the commission to decide whether or not continue a mandate or end it.
If the mandate is to be challenged based on SB40, it must be heard within 72 hours and prove that it is the least restrictive manner in which to accomplish the stated goal.
To start discussion of the topic, a doctor presented updated statistics.
In the last six days, the county reported more than 2,000 COVID-19 cases, pushing the county's overall number of cases since the beginning of the pandemic to more than 18,000.
Additionally, testing rates have almost doubled with a positivity rate of 22%.
Dr. Thomas Marcellino of LMH Health emphasized that the “unprecedented number of cases” has put a strain on the system, seen in staffing shortages, full emergency rooms and delayed transfers.
“We have to realize masks are one tool we can utilize to slow the spread,” Marcellino said.
Another tool he identified was vaccination, especially since he said the peak of the surge has not been seen yet.
Repeatedly, Marcellino spoke to the pertinence of slowing the surge.
“By wearing a mask, you’re just caring about your fellow humans,” Marcellino said.
One commission member asked for an explanation of the severity of the omicron variant compared to the delta variant. Marcellino replied that due to the number of children it has affected, people must be “careful about making assumptions about omicron.”
Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher, LMH Health infectious disease physician, echoed Marcellino’s concerns.
Schrimsher said that deaths continue to increase, with three at LMH on Sunday.
She also called the updated statistics “ridiculous” as cases and staff shortages surge high enough that standard of care could be affected.
With increased patients and staff out due to the virus, some nurses may have their workloads increased from an average of three to four patients to six to seven.
“We need a break, we need help from the community, we’re also asking for help from the state and federal governments as well,” Schrimsher said.
If numbers continue to increase with no relief, she said LMH may have to look at a contingency crisis staffing mode where nurses would be brought back from quarantine at five days rather than 10 and would wear an N95 mask.
Or, worst-case scenario, with beds but not enough staff, health care workers would be forced to choose who receives care.
In an effort to slow the surge and avoid facing such a grim reality, Schrimsher said she believes a temporary mask mandate would be the best move to get through omicron.
Many public commenters in-person and on Zoom opposed the mandate, with one speaker in-person calling on the security in the room to arrest the commission for offenses including “crimes against humanity.”
Conversely, the commenters in support of masking pleaded for the mandate to protect the community.
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