During a lengthy Dodge City commission meeting on Monday, city commissioners voted 4-1 for a citywide mask mandate effective immediately with several exceptions.
The ordinance comes on the heels of a rise of COVID-19 cases in Ford County where the county added 203 new cases in the last three days alone according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
The commissioners will review the ordinance passed every 30 days during the city commission meeting that is held on the third Monday of the month. During that review, commissioners will decide to go forward with the ordinance that is set to expire on Feb. 15, 2021, or to eliminate the ordinance.
The specific details of the ordinance are as follows:
— A face covering must be worn in any indoor public space where distancing of 6 feet is not possible at all times.
— Businesses must require employees, customers, visitors and members of the public to wear a face-covering in any space where employees are working, and customers or workers are present.
— The ordinance will be in effect for a period of 90 days, after Nov. 16, until Feb. 15, 2021. It will be up for review every 30 days during the city commission meeting held on the third Monday of the month.
— The ordinance allows the city commission to extend the duration of this ordinance or discontinue it at any time with a majority vote.
— Not complying with the ordinance is a ticket-able misdemeanor offense with a maximum fine of $25, however no court costs will be assessed.
— Exemptions provided in the ordinance; include persons under 5 years and people with medical conditions that prevent wearing a mask.
During a work session prior to the meeting, members of the community were able to discuss with the commissioners if they were for or against the mandate with a majority of those speaking being against a mask mandate.
Commissioner Joseph Nuci Jr., was the lone nay vote on the mandate.
"I think it is overreach on our part than just one thing," Nuci said. "If we do this then what's next, not allowing people to travel? Forcing people to wash their hands as soon as they enter a restaurant? Are we doing this just to charge them with a violation?
"There's a lot more people can be doing and be responsible to do it themselves."
Legal counsel for the city commissioners Brad Ralph addressed the issue of if people's rights are being violated with passing a mandate.
Ralph said, "It's not. The Legislature provided local governments to be more or less strict than the governor's ruling. If constitutional rights were violated then, then it would have come up since that time.
"It is not a violation of constitutional rights when municipalities pass motorcycle helmet laws or seat belts or zoning laws or traffic ordinances or no parking zones or parking zones or speed limits.
"There are no constitutional concerns in any fashion."
Commissioner Rick Sowers stated he has taken much of his guidance regarding mandates and other combatants of COVID-19 from Dr. Lee Norman the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Sowers said Norman, along with Dr. R.C. Trotter, Ford County physician adviser, have stated that masks work to slow the spread of COVID-19.
"We are in charge of our own health up to a point," Sowers said. "The most cost effective is to mask. I'd like to get us through Christmas. We will work to get masks to the community. The fight is against the virus, we may not agree with each other but we need to come together and beat this virus."
According to city manager Nick Hernandez, the City of Dodge City has 15,000 masks available to businesses in the community with another 10,000 masks coming in the next 60-90 days.
An argument had been made during discussions regarding Dodge City USD 443 having a mask mandate in place yet its case numbers have risen.
"The virus is spreading more through familiar units rather than the schools so people in schools are showing up with it, but the likely cause is they've had it at their house because somebody got it from somewhere else and brought it home," Sowers said.
Regarding family members who have had or do have COVID-19, Dodge City Mayor Joyce Warshaw said her daughter, a nurse practitioner, has COVID-19.
"The masks are for those around us," Warshaw said. "My daughter is infected because someone didn't wear their mask. We are at a crossroads. This is one part we can do to change that."
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