Harvey County extends mask ordinance

Chad Frey
A local public health order requiring the use of facial coverings has been extended through Oct. 19.

The county commission listened to nearly 25 minutes of public comment about mask mandates Sept. 15, a day on which the commission was tasked with choosing whether or not to extend a mandate expiring that day.

After seeing how many people wanted to speak, Commissioner Randy Hague limited comments to two minutes. The majority of the people speaking spent their time speaking against a mandate they called an infringement of their constitutional rights.

“There is no medical science that supports this. I believe it is my constitutional right to take care of my own health care. This is fear mongering,” said Randy Dubier. “... I feel this is just fear mongering and pressuring to get to more sinister things down the road.“

His and others’ comments about science were disputed by Dr. Jennifer Koontz, the president of the Harvey County Medical Society.

“The science remains strong and clear, that masks are effective in preventing COVID-19 transmission within the community,” Koontz said. “No science or research has disputed this. The recommendations remain consistence with the World Health Organization ... the CDC and the state of Kansas.”

For those who are “uncertain” about the use of masks, Koontz offered an explanation of how, and why, she believes masks work.

“First, COVID-19 is primarily spread through respiratory droplets,” Koontz said. “Masks blunt the spray of our respiratory droplets. Viruses do not travel on their own. They travel within those droplets. I think a thing a lot of people miss. ... Wearing a mask is not making a choice for your own health. It is making a choice for the health of those around you.”

The county’s own statistics, according to county administration and the health department, show declines in active cases and daily positive testing rates since the mask mandate was first enacted.

“This is something that can help,” said Dr. Doyle Detweiler, public health officer for Harvey County. “From a public health standpoint, this is the right thing to do.”

“We have local statistics to support this,” said Commissioner Chip Westfall.

The commission voted unanimously to extend the mask order through Oct. 19.

On July 15, when the mask order was initiated, Harvey County had 41 active COVID-19 cases. After three 14-day incubation periods since this order was initiated, active cases have been maintaining around 17 active cases, with there being 16 active COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 9. Additionally, on July 15 when the mask order was initiated, Harvey County's seven-day average of new daily positive COVID-19 cases was 5.7 cases. After three 14-day incubation periods since this order was initiated, the county's seven-day average of new daily positive COVID-19 cases was maintaining between two and three cases, with the seven-day average of new daily positive COVID-19 cases being 2.0 cases on Sept. 9.

To date, 4,717 individual people have been tested in the county. The county currently has 13 active cases of COVID-19. There are no current hospitalizations of Harvey County residents.

The commission also voted unanimously to extend the emergency health declaration until rescinded by the commission, extending the county reopening plan under a “phase out” designation. The designation does not limit the size of group gatherings or close any businesses.

The Harvey County Commission also serves as the Harvey County Board of Health.

“We are doing everything we can to keep businesses open, and yes, you have to wear a mask to walk in the door,“ Westfall said.

In other business the commission:

• Appointed Randy Hague as voting delegate for the KCAMP meeting, with clerk Rick Piepho as voting alternate.

• Appointed Randy Hague as voting delegate for the Kansas Association of Counties. County administrator Anthony Swartzendruber was named alternate, and Westfall as second alternate.

• Learned a roof replacement plan for Hangars J and K at the Newton City/County Airport. Cost is estimated between $90,000 and $100,000. The county would likely have to spend some reserve funds.

• Refunded two bonds — one issued in in 2009 with a balance of $380,000 and one issued in 2011 with a balance of $2,145,000 — in an effort to get a lower interest rate for bonds. Savings are estimated at $370,000.

• Approved an agreement with S&P Global Ratings for the company to create bond ratings for the county.

• Approved a work order to install two methane cutoff trenches at the landfill. The cost of the project is not to exceed $21,000.

• Accepted a bid of $72,000 with delivery cost of $2,950 from Warren Equipment for a walking floor trailer for the solid waste department, pending a review of specifications.

• Approved and agreement with Advanced Correctional Healthcare Inc. for medical services in the Harvey County Detention Center. Cost of the service is $260,736.13.

• Accepted a $122,022 grant award from the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation on behalf of SafeHope.