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County again fails to act on requiring masks

Staff writer

UPDATE — County commissioners, one of them defying Marion city ordinance by failing to wear a mask throughout their meeting, didn't even vote Friday on a watered-down version of a mask mandate requested and originally drafted by the county health nurse.

Commissioner Dianne Novak, despite sitting less than six feet from Commissioner Dave Crofoot, was the lone person in the room who refused to cover her mouth and nose with a mask. She did attempt to get Crofoot disqualified from voting by suggesting that his company, Western Associates, sells masks and therefore presents a conflict of interest.

Nurse Diedre Serene was present by teleconferencing but never was asked to comment on the proposal, redrafted by county counselor Brad Jantz. The draft, not made available to the public, reportedly said it was for Harvey County, where Jantz resides, instead of Marion County.

No action was taken after the issue was debated for less time than the commissioners talked about an old bridge on a road that doesn't even appear on most maps and about spraying for weeds. Our original story from Wednesday's print editions follows.

Despite seeming poised to enact a facemask mandate they twice had rejected, county commissioners objected to proposed penalties and once again delayed action until Friday.

Instead of adopting a proposal written at their request by county health nurse Diedre Serene, they opted to send it to county counsel Brad Jantz for more work.

The ordinance, modeled after one in Sedgwick County, was almost identical to one adopted later in the day by Marion City Council.

One section of the proposed resolution called for enforcement. Commissioners wanted that removed entirely.

Commissioner Kent Becker said his son visited a store in Wichita while wearing a mask and was confronted by another customer who accused him of standing too close.

“I don’t know what kind of civil disorder we might be looking at,” Becker said.

Becker questioned how widespread COVID-19 is. When told there were at the time 45 cases — a number that since has swelled to 50 — he replied: “That’s still south of 1%.”

Commissioner Dianne Novak noted that the percentage of residents diagnosed with the virus was 0.4%.

Becker asked Serene whether people who tested positive were being asked whether they had been responsible about trying to avoid getting the virus.

He also complained about COVID-19 information available online. Marion County doesn’t put up a dashboard with information specific to the county, and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website “is not user friendly,” he said.

Chairman Jonah Gehring said any resolution should include a deadline.

Gehring several times has expressed his opposition to mandates about anything.

Commissioner David Crofoot said he had received 20 emails in favor of a mask resolution and only one opposed.

Becker had put the matter on the agenda for a special meeting Friday, called to sign a resolution extending an earlier disaster declaration to permit the county to receive emergency federal funding.

“I guess all of us have been seeing what has been going on,” Becker said Friday.

Becker said a mask mandate would be important toward getting children back in school and keeping businesses open, whether he agreed with the idea or not.

Novak, who has been the strongest voice in opposition to a mandate, remained opposed.

“A majority of my constituents disagree,” Novak said. “They believe in personal responsibility.”

Novak said she doesn’t wear a mask when she shops for groceries because she can social distance from others. She does wear a mask when she makes campaign stops.

“There are people catching COVID and getting well, right?” Novak said.

Dallke said commissioners were supposed to have facts, and all commissioners know is what Serene tells them at meetings.

“Is there anything more you can tell us?” he asked.

Serene, who strongly favors a mask mandate, answered that the virus is “throughout the county” and in family units.

“It’s now community spread,” she said. “Right now it is time.”

Serene said mandates included exceptions for some people and situations.

Commissioners voted Monday to continue encouraging people to wear face coverings in situations where they cannot practice social distancing.

They also decided that any resolution they pass will be a directive from the board of health instead of a mandate from commissioners.

Commissioners disliked portions of the draft Serene wrote.

Last modified Aug. 2, 2020

 

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