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Any business, church or person in Shawnee County can now ‘opt out’ of the mask mandate



TOPEKA, Kan.  -The mask mandate in Shawnee County still technically exists, but its authority has been stripped.

Any business, church or person can choose to “opt out” of the mandate, after the Shawnee County commissioners voted 2-1 Monday for the amendments. The changes went into effect immediately.

Commission chairman Kevin Cook voted against the amended resolution saying masks are effective. Cook added that masks aren’t overly burdensome and not having something in place “sends a wrong message to the public.”

Can businesses in Shawnee County still mandate masks?

If a private citizen doesn’t want to wear a mask and walks into a business that requires them, the business would have final say.

“It’s still that business’ choice if they want to follow that order or not,” said commissioner Aaron Mays, who made the motion to amend the mask mandate.

Mays said businesses have always had these rights but added he has heard from organizations that want to keep the mandate in place.

Why is the mask mandate still in place even though people can opt out?

Mays said the amendment can provide the county with additional legal protection.

The easing of the mask mandate was in response to legislation passed by Kansas Republican lawmakers, many of whom felt that local COVID-19 orders were infringing on individual freedoms.

Commissioners originally planned to discuss the mask mandate again before it expires at 12:01 a.m. on April 16, but moved up that timeline after SB40 passed. If no further action is taken, Shawnee County’s mask mandate would expire then.

Under new law, anybody who is aggrieved by a county’s COVID-19 order is able to bring the county to court, and the burden of proof is on the county to prove the order was the least restrictive means, or else the individual gets relief within 10 days of the request.

Hearings would need to be held within 72 hours of the request and courts would have to issue a decision seven days after the hearing.

By adding the ability to opt-out, commissioners are able to still have some sort of order in place but avoid what possibly can be countless, resource-intensive court hearings to uphold a mandate.

“Why risk it? Especially when we know our court is completely backlogged right now,” Mays said. “It would be wise to let some other county be the defendant and not us.”

Are masks still required on Shawnee County property?

Masks are still required on county property.

Commissioners voted to make all COVID-19 health orders recommendations on March 18, but a new resolution mandating health orders on county property was approved. Commissioner Bill Riphahn made a motion at Monday’s meeting to amend the resolution governing health orders on county property, but it failed to get a second and wasn’t voted on.

The county could be sued over the mask mandate today, which prompted Riphahn’s motion.

If that resolution is changed, patrons at health department clinics wouldn’t have to wear masks and neither would inmates at the county’s Department of Corrections, among other examples.

Cook said corrections has seen outbreaks and giving inmates the ability to opt out of mask mandates is “inviting trouble to our facility.”

The commissioners are expected to continue discussion on that resolution Thursday, which will give the county additional time to contact departments to determine the best course of action.