Kansas City metro health officials focus on COVID-19 vaccines, not mask mandates

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Posted at 6:49 PM, Jun 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-30 19:49:58-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo.  — With an increase in cases of the COVID-19 delta variant in Kansas and Missouri, some might be wondering about possible mask mandates. But Kansas City metro doctors don't anticipate their return.

Dr. Larry Botts, chief medical officer for AdventHealth Shawnee Mission, said on Wednesday's University of Kansas Health System media call, he believes it would be difficult to reinstate a mask mandate.

"I think, at least for vaccinated people for sure, I don't think that's going to become something that they were going to start going toward at least not in Kansas​, I don't see that happening," Botts said.

Johnson County Department of Health and Environment Director Dr. Sanmi Areola said in a statement to 41 Action News that his department will continue to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kansas Department of Health and Environment guidance.

"We continue to monitor the number of infections and are tracking the activities of the different variants in Johnson County," Areola said in the statement. "While current evidence points to the delta variant being more infectious, predominantly, it is those who are unvaccinated who are contracting the virus. The vaccines are effective against the variants. JCDHE’s focus is to get shots into arms to protect our community as much as possible. There are no changes to current policies.”

Similarly, a spokesperson for Wyandotte County said in a statement that the mayor and county commission "continue to track the data."

“Per the State of Kansas, it will be up to our elected officials to make any changes to our current orders," the statement read. "In the meantime, the Unified Government Public Health Department continues its daily effort to vaccinate and test as many Wyandotte County residents as possible to keep our community safe.”

In Missouri, Dr. Mark Steele, chief clinical officer for Truman Medical Centers/University Health, agreed with Botts that vaccines should be the primary focus moving forward.

"There's no question that these vaccines are just incredibly effective," Steele said.

Kansas City, Missouri, according to a statement from Mayor Quinton Lucas' office, will "continue to monitor" the spread of COVID-19 variants. City officials also are in "regular communication" with local and federal health leaders for guidance.

"We cannot emphasize enough the importance of taking the COVID-19 vaccine to protect our all in our community—and encourage those who haven’t yet been vaccinated to make a plan to do so," the statement said.

The Jackson County Health Department also said in a statement that it is monitoring the delta variant "closely."

"We know that this variant has been identified and is actively circulating in the Kansas City region," the department said. "At this time, we do not have plans to reenact a mask mandate – although any future orders would be limited based on recent legislation passed at the state level. We strongly urge residents who are not vaccinated to seek a vaccine immediately, or follow the CDC guidance of wearing a mask when in public spaces."

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson enacted a law Tuesday that would limit local orders restricting businesses, churches, schools or gatherings to 30 days while the state is under a statewide emergency declaration, unless extended by a majority vote of the local governing body.

The law states that if there is not a statewide emergency declaration, local orders restricting businesses or activities could only last for 21 days unless extended by a two-thirds vote of the local governing body.

Still, doctors encouraged mask-wearing for those not yet vaccinated.

"For families that have children who are not at an age yet eligible to be vaccinated, it’s still very important to continue to mask," Dr. Sarah Boyd, infectious disease physician at Saint Luke's Health System, said. "Especially when they are out in crowds and unable to maintain that 6 foot protection of distance."