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Ford County votes to opt out of statewide mask mandate

Judd Weil
Dodge City Daily Globe

At a special meeting Tuesday morning, Ford County commissioners voted 3-0 to opt out of Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order that will mandate masks across Kansas starting Wednesday.

Kelly issued the executive order on Nov. 18. It is her second attempt at requiring the use of face masks across Kansas during the COVID-19 pandemic, the first time being in July.

The motion was passed with the following amendment proposed by Commissioner Shawn Tassett: “In consideration of other available information, the Board of County Commissioners of Ford County, Kansas has determined the mandatory provisions in Executive Order #20-68 are not necessary to protect the public health and safety of the residents of Ford County.”

The Ford County Commission passed the motion despite being advised at the Nov. 16 meeting by county health experts, including Ford County Health Department administrator Angela Sowers, who gave commissioners data from the state epidemiologist on how masks can mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“Masks are the only thing we have for the general public to prevent the spread, other than social distancing,” Dr. R.C. Trotter said when reached for comment about commissioners’ decision. “It’s like I said when I was there, these are the masks I wore in the operating room, so they must work to a degree.”

At the Nov. 16 meeting, Trotter provided a consultation on the necessity of masks to slow the spread of the virus and told commissioners that COVID-19 numbers are rising.

“It’s unfortunate because we know and we got data that counties that adopted the masks in the beginning have had fewer cases than those that didn’t,” Trotter said.

When reached for comment about why commissioners voted to exclude the executive order from Ford County, Tasset said he could only speak for himself.

“It’s really very simple from my standpoint,” he said. “Nothing from this pandemic has risen to the level that we suspend the Constitution or the rights that it guarantees or personal liberties, and that’s my position on it.”

Stating his reasons for having voted against a mask mandate, Commissioner Ken Snook said, “I have the right to wear one or not wear one and I wear one because I am 81 years old and have heart problems, and that’s the reason I wear my mask.”

Commissioner Chris Boys was not at the meeting in person but did call in to vote to opt out of the mandate.

Boys had not responded to questions about his vote as of early Wednesday afternoon.