KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Jackson County Legislature voted Monday to extend the indoor mask mandate, which impacts schools in the eastern part of the county, for another month.
The mask mandate, which was set to expire Oct. 7, has been extended to Nov. 7 by a 6-2 vote.
Council members Jalen Anderson, Crystal Williams, Tony Miller, Scott Burnett, Charlie Franklin and Ronald E. Finley voted for the ordinance.
Two council members who refuse to wear masks during meetings, Theresa Cass Galvin and Jeanie Lauer, voted against the ordinance.
Dan Tarwater III, who previously voted against the ordinance, was absent.
Councilman Jalen Anderson, who was among the resolution’s sponsors, acknowledged that cases have dropped significantly since the mask ordinance, but he said that’s a credit to the mask ordinance and not a reason to end it.
He pointed out that Jackson County continues to lag behind Johnson County, Kansas, in terms of vaccination rate and urged a redoubling of the effort to increase its vaccination rate.
Jackson County Health Department Director Bridgette Shaffer said during her presentation in support of a 30-day extension that only 53% of eligible Jackson County residents have initiated the vaccination process and only 47% have completed it.
Nearly 63% of Johnson County residents have completed vaccination, according to the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.
Shaffer said the 25- to 44-year-old age group is lagging significantly behind with respect to vaccination rate and the most growth has been seen among 10- to 14-year-olds during the last month.
“We know our vaccination rates are still inadequate,” she said.
In asking the legislature to renew the ordinance, Shaffer noted that eastern Jackson County’s case rate remained high at 139.95 new cases per 100,000 in the past seven days.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention categorize any locale with a transmission rate above 100 cases per 100,000 as high transmission.
The current case positivity rate, which Shaffer said was 7.19%, is in the moderate range and has declined in recent weeks.
According to Shaffer, 20-24-year-olds have the highest case rate at the moment, but case rates also have been increasing among 10-19-year-olds as well.
“We are seeing that shift in that younger age group,” Shaffer said.
Sick children were the focus of many council members who supported the ordinance.
“Sick kids is a bad thing,” Williams said.
Lee’s Summit R-7 Superintendent Dr. David Buck said last year most cases in the district were among adults.
But now that an estimated 90% of adult staff have been vaccinated and with the emergence of the delta variant, which is more transmissible and causes more serious disease in children, that has shifted.
“Most of our cases this year are students,” Buck said.“... It’s definitely not adults getting the positive cases like last year. It’s definitely the kids. Delta has shifted that.”
He credited in-school masking, which reduces the number of close contacts when someone tests positive, with helping reduce the number of quarantines required per positive case.
Miller said his goal in voting for the ordinance was to keep children in classrooms — citing the cost of education, nutrition and the chance to monitor for abuse associated with kids not being in school.
“I don’t have any particular interest in interfering with anyone’s life, livelihood or anything else,” he said. “But what I do have our interest in is keeping our children in school. ... If wearing a mask is a measure and short-term response to what we can do to keep people in school, then that’s what we need to do.”
Shaffer testified that recent studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of masks.
She said schools without a mask mandate are 3.5 times more likely to have a COVID-19 outbreak and noted that case rates have been more than double in schools without mask mandates compared to schools with mask mandates.
Shaffer recommended continuing to follow CDC advice, which recommends a layered approach that includes vaccination, testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantining of positive patients, social distancing, mask wearing, and other hygiene practices.
She also noted that “there is still a strain on the health care system.”
While the number of new hospitalizations have declined from 141 on Aug. 25 to an average of 102 on Sept. 24, bed shortages remain a problem with staffing shortages.
The Kansas City, Missouri, City Council will consider a similar measure later this week.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who sued the county in August about the mask mandate, called the ordinance "government overreach" and said his lawsuit against Jackson County will proceed.
The Missouri legislature put additional restrictions on health officials and government bodies seeking to impose emergency health orders last spring.
The new law requires the legislature to renew the extension by a two-thirds majority every 30 days.