UG Public Health Department strongly recommends return of mask mandate

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, Public Health Department shared alarming COVID-19 statistics Thursday night and strongly recommended the return of a mask mandate.

Medical experts shared those numbers at a special session of the Board of County Commissioners.

The commissioners voted last month 6-4 to end the mask mandate.

It had been set to expire Jan. 6.

Just 48.5% of Wyandotte County residents are fully vaccinated, meaning a person has two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or 1 shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to Elizabeth Groenweghe, chief epidemiologist with the UG Public Health Department.

And just over 13% of Wyandotte County residents have received a booster shot, according to Groenweghe.

She also told commissioners that 306 people tested positive for COVID-19 Thursday, a number the department has never seen before, with 62% of those testing being positive for COVID.

Additionally, the department is worried about cases rising quickly as schools return from winter break.

Dr. Allen Greiner, with the University of Kansas Health System, told the commission anything that can be done should be done to slow down the pandemic.

He pointed out that while the omicron variant may cause slightly lower hospitalizations, it could cause long-haul COVID.

Greiner said about 60% of cases are the omicron variant while 40% are cases caused by the delta variant.

The omicron variant's transmission rate is much higher than other variants, as much as two to three times more transmissible, Greiner said.

The experts agreed that masks work.

Greiner cited a study done in Kansas schools last year in which 24 schools had children wear masks and 81 did not.

There was a significant difference in the higher number of cases in the schools that did not wear masks, he said.

Commissioners took no action on the recommendation that a mask mandate be brought back.