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Shawnee Extends Mask Mandate To June 2021


November 19, 2020

Alex Sloan

Dr. Mitchell Wolf sits on the front row during the city commission meeting Monday. Firefighters lined the back wall awaiting the announcement of the new Fire Chief. Everyone wore masks.

On Monday night, the Shawnee City Commissioners met at city hall, in front of a uniformly masked audience.

Although the crowd was large, every person in the chamber wore a face covering over their mouth and nose.

During the meeting, the commissioners voted unanimously to extend the face-covering ordinance until June of 2021, in addition to making some other slight adjustments. The commission made abundantly clear that they would repeal the ordinance earlier if and when the COVID-19 threat subsides.

Before public comments began, Commissioner Daniel Matthews moved to split the time allotted for public comments in two and extend it by twelve minutes. He said this would allow time for people on both sides of the issue to express their thoughts. Commissioner Bob Weaver seconded his motion, and the board voted unanimously in favor of it.

However, only two speakers would take the podium to address concerns about the mask mandate: one for the extension and one opposed.

Rob Morris, a frequent speaker at the commission meetings, spoke against the mask mandate's extension.

"If a business chooses to have people wear it, that's their business," Morris said. "They make the rules. They own the building; they pay for everything there; it's their business. I don't think it's up to this commission to do that."

Morris also took issue with the language used in the extended mandate's conditional repealer clause. As worded, the ordinance would be automatically repealed at such a time as the state declaration of emergency is lifted, and the health department no longer advocates for masks.

Morris said because this clause didn't specify COVID-19, it could be construed to mean any emergency declaration and any advocacy for masks by the health department, not just those related to the current crisis.

The other speaker, Dr. Mitchell Wolf, spoke strongly in favor of the mandate's extension.

"As you know, we're in the middle of a public health crisis," Wolf said. "None of us ever expected back in March that we would still be discussing COVID infections and deaths in the hundreds of thousands by this time of year, but that's where we're at, and it's not slowing down."

He said that despite the extensive discussion of the issue in the news and on social media, there are those who still doubt the legitimacy of this crisis.

"Which is amazing," Wolf said. "In that none of us have ever seen, in our lifetimes, a disease that has killed a quarter of a million people in eight months. If that's not a crisis, I don't know what is."

Wolf urged the commissioners to see this virus as a public health issue rather than a political one.

"The truth is, that's our best weapon against spreading the coronavirus; wearing a simple mask," Wolf said.

Wolf said half of the daily admissions to the local hospital are related to COVID-19.

"I will tell you that in the real world, down in the trenches, people are getting sick and dying," Wolf said. "Healthcare workers are getting sick and dying. Hospitals are full."

The ordinance presented to the board had a few amendments, including the conditional repealer clause mentioned earlier. Additionally, the city added a signage requirement for businesses, which will now have to display signs informing people about the mask requirement.

Commissioner Matthews expressed some initial concerns about the date on the ordinance and suggested reconsidering the matter quarterly. However, the board eventually came to a consensus that addressing the ordinance quarterly was ultimately unnecessary.

In comments after the meeting, Commissioner Weaver explained his position.

"I like the idea of June 30, because I just felt like, since we can change it, that that's our good way of dealing with it," Weaver said.

He said the commissioners could choose to repeal the ordinance at any time and would be able to act with all due haste to lift it once the COVID-19 threat subsides.

"I mean heck if we see on the horizon that the vaccine is there, and it's working, and people are taking it and stuff, we're going to know that," Weaver said.

Matthews also expressed concerns about the enforcement of the ordinance, and Weaver had done so at a previous meeting.

"I just think that enforcement is an important part of any ordinance," Matthews said. "If you're going to pass it, you've got to enforce it."

However, no amendments were proposed to the enforcement section of the ordinance.

"I don't, quite frankly, feel like I have any better ideas," Matthews said. "It's not ideal, to put our police officers in that situation. But the truth is, that's part of their job, enforcing the laws and the ordinances that are passed."

Matthews did point out and said he appreciated the fact that the mandate was enforced within city hall during the meeting.

"Before, it hasn't been. So I think that's a start," Matthews said. "And I think perhaps the seriousness we find ourselves in, the counts, the hospitalizations, school going virtual, perhaps more people are starting to take it seriously themselves."

One amendment was proposed and accepted by the commission. Vice-Mayor Darren Rutherford addressed some of the concerns initially put forth by Rob Morris, by clarifying the conditional repealer clause of the ordinance.

Rutherford's motion, to pass the ordinance, but amend the conditional repealer section to clarify that the state of emergency and mask advocacy requirements applied specifically to actions regarding COVID-19, and nothing else. And with a unanimous vote, the ordinance was amended and accepted.


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