Mask exemptions, and what would lift the order

Chad Frey
The Harvey County Commission first  issued an order to require individuals to wear a face mask July 14, extending the order monthly until this week, when it was extended without an expiration date.

At about the same time the Harvey County Commission was considering renewing a local face mask order, someone was downtown using a “mask exemption card” that officials called fraudulent — and unnecessary.

“We had an issue come up with a mask exemption card,“ Hein said. ”They are not really a thing, and the organization on the card was not really legitimate. These can be very threatening for businesses.“

The card does not have the backing of the Harvey County Health Department.

“I have never seen a mask exemption card,” said Lynnette Redington, director of the Harvey County Health Department. “I can understand if people feel like they are tired explaining why they are not wearing a mask. ... Know that the Harvey County Health Department is not giving those out. We are not creating any cards, and we will not be creating any cards.”

Both the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice have information on their websites stating that such cards are not issued by governmental agencies — and if they bear the logo of the FTC or DOJ, the cards are fraudulent.

“There is no police authority in this county that will arrest you for (not wearing a mask),” said County Commissioner Chip Westfall.

At its most recent meeting, the Harvey County Commission — which also serves as the county board of health — passed an extension of its mask order with no expiration date that contains nearly a dozen exemptions, which have been within each order passed at the county level.

The order will be in place until rescinded by the county commission/county board of health with the consultation of the Harvey County Health Department and the Harvey County public medical officer.

“We will keep our eyes on research and find out more as more mask studies are done,” Redington said. “We will look at if there are other mitigation strategies that we should be using right now. Other science, like a vaccine or other methods of lowering the spread of COVID-19. That is what it is really about, lowering the spread.”

The prime concern, she said, is to keep hospitals from getting overwhelmed.

The most recent numbers available show that 5,933 people have been tested for the coronavirus in Harvey County. There have been 483 cases found, with 444 people recovered and eight deaths. The current biweekly positive test rate is 14.54%.

The mask order passed, and extended repeatedly by the Harvey County Board of Health/Harvey County Commission, contains several exemptions.

That order has drawn fire, namely during the public comment section of county commission meetings, for weeks. It has been repeatedly supported by doctors and administrators from Newton Medical Center.

“There are 11 exemptions,” Westfall said. “Please ... look at the 11 exemptions and if you fall under those exemptions, feel comfortable to use them. Keep your masks clean and use them. The only time you have to wear them when you are out in public. ... Honor the request of the businesses that have the signs up and live as normal as possible. It has been 100 years since we have had the last pandemic. We have a lot to learn here.”

Included in the exemptions list are children under the age of 5, people who are hearing impaired and those with a medical or mental health condition that prevents the wearing of a facial covering.

The order’s text creates the following exemptions:

• Persons age 5 years or under; children age 2 years and under in particular should not wear a face covering because of the risk of suffocation.

• Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a face covering-this includes persons with a medical condition for whom wearing a face covering could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance.

• Persons who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication; Persons for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.

• Persons who are obtaining a service involving the nose or face for which temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to perform the service.

• Persons who are seated at a restaurant or other establishment that offers food or beverage service, while they are eating or drinking, provided they maintain a 6-foot distance between individuals (not including individuals who reside together or are seated together) with only infrequent or incidental moments of closer proximity.

• Athletes who are engaged in an organized sports activity that allows athletes to maintain a 6-foot distance from others with only infrequent or incidental moments of closer proximity, and individuals who are participating in strenuous exercise that allows such individuals to maintain a 6-foot distance from others with only infrequent or incidental moments of closer proximity.

• Persons who are engaged in an activity that a professional or recreational association, regulatory entity, medical association, or other public health-oriented entity has determined cannot be safely conducted while wearing a mask or other face covering.

• Persons engaged in a court-related proceeding held or managed by the Kansas Judiciary.

• Persons engaged in any lawful activity during which wearing a mask or other face covering is prohibited by law.

• Persons who have one or more physical barrier(s) between them and any other persons.