Sheriff: We will not be ’mask police’

Chad Frey
An executive order by Gov. Laura Kelly will require masks to be worn in public areas starting July 3, but do not expect law enforcement in Harvey County to enforce the order.

Harvey County Sheriff Chad Gay made a statement at the county commission Tuesday concerning a pending executive order, and possible county order, mandating the use of masks in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We are not going to be the mask police,” Gay said.

He has consulted with four police departments in the county, and those departments said the same thing.

The sheriff believes departments do not have the manpower to enforce a pending executive order requiring the use of masks.

“I think this whole thing is a government overreach,” Gay said. “It is the businesses that need to make the requirement.”

Commissioner Randy Hague shared some statistics Tuesday morning about mask usage with the county commission, though not statistics about infections of COVID-19. He wanted to talk about public reaction to a notice Monday that Gov. Laura Kelly will issue an executive order that everyone wear masks in public.

“Since 4:30 yesterday I have been inundated with emails,” Hague said.

He told the commission he had received more than 75 emails in about 15 hours. Only five of those emails were against the order and mask usage.

“We have yet to see the executive order, and there are likely to be some exceptions to it,” said Commissioner Chip Westfall. “I do not want to enforce cancellation of anything, or the closure of any business. If this is a short-term give up, then so be it.”

The commission did not take action because the order has not been signed and has not been published and the statement by law enforcement that it would not enforce the order.

However, the commission did review, and pass, a policy for the courthouse referencing the governor’s order. The policy requires employees to wear masks indoors. The policy also requires mask usage outdoors where social distancing is not possible, that masks cover the nose and mouth. The policy contains exemptions for medical purposes. The county does have masks that can be provided to employees.

The policy also requires anyone entering the courthouse to wear a mask starting July 3.

“I would support that 100%, that we require people who come into the courthouse to wear a mask, and our employees,” said Commissioner Ron Krehbiel.

Kelly announced Monday that she will sign an executive order requiring that most Kansans in a public space wear a mask as of 12:01 a.m. Friday.

“This is a simple, proactive step we can take to keep Kansans at work, get our kids back to school, and keep ourselves and our neighbors healthy,” Kelly said. “Wearing a mask is not only safe – but it is necessary to avoid another shut down.

Under the order, most Kansans must wear masks in stores and shops, restaurants, and in any situation in which social distancing of 6 feet cannot be maintained, including outside. The order will be released on Thursday and will provide specific guidance regarding under what circumstances masks must be worn.

“I have been real conscientious about wearing mask, until I saw all the people not wearing masks. I am wearing a mask to protect them, and they do not have the courtesy to turn around and wear one to protect me,” Hague said. “I throw my hands up and say, why am I bothering? I know that is not the right attitude, but unless everybody does it, it will not be successful.”

In Harvey County, there have been 1,181 tests administered to date, with 394 tests performed last week. A drive-up clinic at Health Ministries opened with a goal of 50 tests a day, but performed 120 each day on Thursday and Friday. As of Tuesday, there were 21 active COVID-19 cases in the county.

In other business, the commission:

• Received an update on sales tax.

• Reviewed meeting dates and locations.

• Appointed Kelly McElroy and Wayne Valentine to the public building commission.

• Allocated $5,000 to STAND from the special drugs and alcohol fund.

• Approved a resolution authorizing the county to receive SPARK funding, a state COVID-19 recovery grant program.

• Received a preliminary budget.