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Johnson County continues on with current K-6 mask requirement

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Students, faculty, staff and visitors in buildings with K-6 education in Johnson County will still be required to wear masks. And high schools still won't have a mask mandate.

In an hours-long meeting on Thursday, the Johnson County Commission voted 5-2 to keep the rules as they currently stand. 

There was discussion on eliminating the mandate, expand it to older students, passing a community-wide order or creating an opt-out system for local school districts within the current order, but none of those ideas turned into successful motions. 

LENGTHY DEBATE 

During public comments, community members from all over asked for various things, including the end to the mask mandate and an expansion to the mask mandate to include all of Johnson County among other things. 

District 6 commissioner Shirley Allenbrand said she’s “alarmed” by the current level of COVID-19 transmission and strain on the local hospital system, sentiments echoed by other commissioners throughout the meeting. 

“This is our duty to make these decisions and not push them off to anyone else,” District 4 commissioner Janeé Hanzlick said. 

LOCAL COVID-19 SITUATION 

COVID-19 transmission in the community has risen rapidly, with near record-breaking metrics recorded daily in terms of regional hospitalizations as well as local testing rates and the number of cases per 100,000 residents, which has surpassed 1,000 for the first time, according to data from the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. That puts the risk level at high. 

District 5 commissioner Michael Ashcraft said he would’t support any furthering of the order in any capacity, but would back recommendations. 

“I am really of the belief that schools know their environment better and know when they should implement mitigation efforts, including masks and what is the most appropriate level of government to make those decisions,” he said. “When we sit on high and have blanket orders, it doesn’t give the schools the flexibility to impose or withdraw those mitigation efforts as they see fit.” 

KEEPING KIDS IN SCHOOLS 

Without masks in schools, Dr. Jennifer Watts, a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Children’s Mercy Hospital, says more coronavirus transmission is certain. 

“We want kids in school 100%, we all do. We need it for the children's entire well-being, we need it for our economy, we need it for our workforce in our hospitals,” she said during a state-wide COVID-19 press conference this week, “but most importantly to us, we need the kids in school so they can continue to learn, they can continue to receive all the benefits that they get from schools.” 

The current order will be revisited in six weeks' time, or at which point the local rate of community transmission improves, Chair Ed Eilert said. However, the order is not set to actually expire until the end of May. 

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