KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Jackson County Legislature considered a proposed ordinance Tuesday that would have required masks in public schools. The measure was withdrawn after debate.
The Jackson County Health Department did recommend a mask mandate for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, due to increased transmission of COVID-19 with the omicron variant.
However, others expressed that a mask mandate would not help since many schools, regardless of masking policies, have struggled with staff and student absences due to illness.
Olathe Public Schools and Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools are among districts who have closed across the state line in Kansas. Olathe schools have not always required masks this school year for high school students, though they have instituted universal masking at times due to high transmission rates, while KCKPS began with universal masking inside its schools.
Ray Dlugolecki, assistant director at the Jackson County Health Department, did agree that cloth masks are not as effective against the omicron variant as other variants in the past, but are still more effective than not wearing a mask at all.
"It’s still more effective than doing nothing, but it’s not as effective as an N-95 mask," Dlugolecki said.
Dlugolecki stressed that masks were one way to prevent transmission and illness in the community among an arsenal of tactics, among them social distancing and vaccination.
"Masking is one tool in the toolbox," he said.
Dlugolecki pointed to vaccination as probably the most useful tool, but he also said that with stubbornly low vaccination rates in Jackson County, other tools needed to be used as well.
These tools, he stressed, are especially important as the county sees high rates of the virus, which has put additional stress on the health system.
During his presentation to legislators about the state of the pandemic in the county, he said weekly overall case rates have increased every week since Oct. 24.
Currently, the weekly case rate is 1,227 per 100,000, which is ten times higher than the CDC designation for high transmission.
Dlugolecki also said the county has recently seen the most cases ever in kids under five.
Theresa Galvin, 6th District Legislator, said the ordinance to enact a mask mandate would have needed a majority vote, which wouldn't have happened Tuesday.
"I don't think it's going to go away, I do think we will probably see something come up in the future, I hope not, maybe the numbers will start going down and others will be satisfied and we won't need it but this is where we are at today," Galvin said.
When asked if not masks, what can the county do to stop the spread of COVID-19 and help local hospitals, she had this to say:
"I mean really who does have that answer, but I still stand by personal responsibility, there are days and times I go places and I wear a mask just because I feel more comfortable to wear a mask, and I don't need somebody to tell me to do that," Galvin said.
Current case rate is 10 times higher than the CDC designation for high transmission. @KSHB41
— Emma James (@Emma_JamesTV) January 18, 2022
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