MERRIAM, Kan. — Johnson County business owners spent the past year trying to follow a myriad of COVID-19 restrictions from customer limits to mask mandates.
But those restrictions are being pulled back, including the divisive mask mandate.
The Johnson County Board of Commissioners voted Thursday to drop the mask mandate and just strongly recommend people wear a mask.
The commission voted 5-1, with Commissioner Charlotte O'Hara as the only no vote.
It becomes official Saturday, May 1.
One business owner is happy with the change.
“We don’t want to sit here and have to tell adults what they should be doing," said Allison Henry, owner of Hurricane Allies Bar and Grill.
For the past year, Henry has been tasked with enforcing COVID-19 restrictions mandated by the county.
“If people feel more comfortable wearing a mask then they can still continue to do that, it’s just not going to be our job anymore to enforce it and I don’t feel like that it should have ever been our job," said Henry.
The commission heard from a Johnson County resident who said it was time to get ride of the mandate.
“I think it was the right decision to end the mandate," said Daniel Austin, Johnson County resident.
The board strongly recommended that business owners follow the current CDC guidelines, which include wearing masks indoors and maintaining social distance.
However, the decision is ultimately up to the businesses to remove or keep their COVID-19 guidelines in place.
“I don’t go anywhere with a mask on and if a business tells me to put a mask on, they lose my business forever after all this is over and I will tell all of my friends," said Austin.
The manager of Razzleberry Boutique in downtown Overland Park, Kansas, said he plans to continue to require customers to wear masks when shopping even if it costs him business.
“That’s just the name of the game,” Austin Bringenberg said. “If they want to be upset, they’ll just have to shop elsewhere.”
Bringenberg went on to say he believes guidance from the federal level about wearing masks ensures everyone stays healthy.
The director of Ten Thousand Villages across the street from Razzleberry said the new recommendation puts businesses in an awkward position where each business can have different rules.
Karen Greenwood said her staff and volunteers will still be required to wear masks past May 1 and she’ll ask customers to wear them as well, admitting it will be hard to enforce that rule without the requirement from county government.
More troubling for Greenwood is the fact almost 60 volunteers help operate the nonprofit’s day to day retail operations. Those volunteers are retirement age and have drastically cut back hours to reduce their chances of contracting COVID-19. Many of those volunteers were set to return this weekend.
“We have a renewed sense of, ‘Is it safe for me to come back to work?’ So we are currently evaluating staffing and who really is going to come back,” Greenwood said.
When the board extended the public health order back in March, their goal was to reach a 50 percent vaccination rate in the county and a less than 5 percent positivity rate per 100,000.
Current statistics show the county reaching their percent positivity goal.
But only 41 percent of the county has been vaccinated.