Douglas County Commission extends indoor mask mandate through March 2
photo by: Austin Hornbostel
Douglas County’s mask mandate in indoor public spaces will continue for at least three more weeks.
On Wednesday, the Douglas County Commission voted unanimously to extend the order, which applies to everyone age 2 and older, through the end of the day on March 2. That’s the date of the commission’s first meeting of next month.
The county’s indoor mask order was originally set to expire this week, but commissioners voiced concern that the county was not yet out of the woods when it came to the most recent surge in coronavirus cases.
In the lead-up to the vote, commissioners heard from health officials like county health officer Dr. Thomas Marcellino, deputy health officer Jennifer Schrimsher, and health department director Dan Partridge. They also consulted with Brad Finkeldei, a Lawrence city commissioner who is also the assistant county counselor, for legal counsel about extending the current order.
Going into Wednesday’s meeting, public health officials weren’t recommending an extension of the mask order. Instead, they were recommending a new order which would have mandated masks only in places where 500 or more people were in attendance. Marcellino and Partridge said Wednesday that the recommendation was intended as a way for the county to gradually ease up on its virus protocols.
But Commissioners Shannon Reid and Shannon Portillo both said they were hesitant to lift the wider-reaching indoor mask mandate while data still shows high rates of COVID-19 transmission in the county. They pointed to the health department’s community transmission indicator, which shows how much the virus is spreading. On Wednesday, the community transmission was still in the “red” level of severity, which is the most severe level.
About 15 people spoke during the meeting’s public comment period. A few of them urged the commission to extend the mask mandate, but most of the commenters spoke against the mandate, and some of these anti-mask speakers disrupted the meeting by yelling and talking while other people were trying to speak.
At the commission’s meeting on Feb. 2, a group of anti-mask protesters had threatened to take legal action against the county because of the COVID-19 mandates. Reid spoke briefly about that issue at Wednesday’s meeting.
“We support your right to state your views about this topic, and the right to pursue available legal action in response to our decisions,” Reid said. “Concurrently, we as the board of Douglas County commissioners are confident in our choices to issue all past public health orders recommended to us by our trusted local health officers throughout this crisis. Courts have also upheld such orders as legal.”
• In other business, the commission approved the county’s year-end transfers, which involve moving money from one part of the county’s budget where excess funds exist to another part where funds may be needed. County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said this is a routine item taken care of at the end of each fiscal year.