Facing some public hostility, county leaders extend health order that requires masks for kids ages 2-12 in schools and other public indoor spaces

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

Justin Spiehs points to commissioners while speaking against the county mask requirement as part of the Douglas County Commission meeting on Sept. 22, 2021.

Again facing insults and accusations of abusing children, Douglas County leaders voted to extend a health order that requires children who are not yet eligible for vaccination to wear a mask indoors.

As part of its meeting Wednesday, the Douglas County Commission voted unanimously to extend the current health order that requires children ages 2 to 12 to wear masks while in indoor public spaces, with some exceptions, until Dec. 22. Douglas County’s health officer, Dr. Thomas Marcellino, said the mask requirement had met the goal of helping keep kids in school and avoided the shutdowns that have occurred in other areas due to COVID outbreaks.

“And I think what we’ve done here in Douglas County is we’ve curtailed the spread by utilizing this important measure, and it’s enabled our schools to stay open,” Marcellino said.

The meeting included a review of recent data regarding cases, and Marcellino said COVID is still present enough in the community that the health order is needed. He said if cases decline enough or the vaccine is approved for younger age groups before the order expires, then it could be changed.

The commission heard about an hour and 20 minutes of public comment from 24 speakers. Though fewer people were at the courthouse and relatively less vitriol was directed at commissioners than when they initially approved the order last month, some speakers still accused commissioners of abusing children, accepting bribes or being tyrants, and a couple continued to liken mask requirements to Nazi Germany.

Justin Spiehs began his public comment by playing a video of a mask being put on a complaining young child. Raising his voice, Spiehs said dads are supposed to protect their children, and, pointing at the commission, asked those gathered if they were going to allow people who didn’t have children to tell them what to do with theirs.

“They are voting to put child abuse in place,” Spiehs said. “They are evil. They are sick. There are three up there and two of them don’t even have children.”

Another woman, who only gave her name as Kenzie D., said that she was really angry and she didn’t understand why commissioners were not “listening to the science,” suggesting that perhaps they had been paid off.

“We are actually fighting for the grandchildren that you probably will never have,” she said. “… These are acts of treason and crimes against humanity and when the time comes you will be held accountable if you don’t do the right thing.”

Others who spoke in opposition to the order were more measured. Many claimed masks did not prevent the spread of disease, that they considered masking to be a parent’s decision, or said that the mask requirement was an infringement on their freedom. Nicole Vannicola, of Eudora, said she still opposed masks, but apologized for her un-Christian behavior at the last meeting and offered apologies directly to members of the commission.

A few spoke in favor of the requirement, all of whom spoke later in the meeting during the online portion of public comment. Two parents thanked the commission for the order, saying it protected children and the community. Eudora schoolteacher Dick Powers said he was sorry for what the commission had endured from the public, and that the vast majority of people supported them. He added that he’d just been at Dillons and everyone was wearing masks except a few people.

“The only people who have trouble with masks are the parents,” Powers said. “The kids don’t have trouble with masks in the schools.”

Responding to some of the commenters who said studies did not support masks, Commission Chair Shannon Portillo noted that the commission already had multiple conversations with public health officers about the research regarding the effectiveness of masks, and those findings bore out in the community.

“I think we’ve also seen recently that communities that don’t have masking policies have had to shut down schools and have had more clusters and outbreaks,” Portillo said.

Commission Vice Chair Shannon Reid said there are obviously varied opinions about the order and commissioners would continue to have those discussions with people, but that they also had to consider how the level of cases and hospitalizations can stress the health care system.

Referring to some of the misinformation that was relayed by some commenters, Commissioner Patrick Kelly said the internet and arguments about what the science says create challenges. He also said that while he was disappointed in some of the things that were said, he did see progress from the last meeting in the civility of the conversation.

“I hear people saying that they believe their freedoms are being taken away; I understand that,” Kelly said. “I feel we have to balance that against the health and safety of our community.”


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