A new executive order in Kansas will require masks be worn in indoor spaces statewide starting Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving, Gov. Laura Kelly announced Wednesday during a press conference.
The Democratic governor announced the mask mandate following a surge in COVID-19 cases across Kansas. In Douglas County in specific, the 14-day moving average for cases of the coronavirus has rapidly increased since Nov. 1, according to a dashboard from Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health.
“Today’s order both ensures that I fulfill my responsibility to create the standard for the state of Kansas to follow, but also gives communities the ownership and flexibility to decide how best to implement it,” Kelly said.
Individual counties will have one week to create their own ordinance mandating the use of face masks in public spaces, Kelly said. If after one week they have not created a protocol, they will be opted in to the statewide order.
Counties that have already implemented mask mandates are exempted from this order, and can keep regulations already in place. Douglas County health officials have required masks since late June.
“We have reached a new stage in our fight with this virus, and how we choose to respond can turn the tide for our businesses, our hospitals and our schools,” Kelly said.
Kelly previously rolled out a statewide mask mandate in July, but counties were able to opt out of it. Counties and cities were able to make their own choice on whether or not they wanted to opt out of the mask mandate. More than half of Kansas counties chose not to require masks in enclosed spaces, according to researchers from the University of Kansas.
At the time, Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle opposed the move by Kelly. Wagle argued the governor was using a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
“Local leaders have done a great job in dictating local responses after public hearings and discussions with their constituents,” Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said in a written statement in July.
Kelly said Wednesday she spoke with leadership in the Kansas Legislature before she moved forward with the most recent executive order.
‘Do masks work in Kansas?’
A study conducted by University of Kansas researchers in August shows that counties with face mask mandates slowed the spread of the coronavirus by up to 50% compared to counties without mask mandates.
“The question is do masks work in Kansas? The answer seems to be yes,” said Donna Ginther, a researcher from the KU Institute for Policy & Research, in a presentation from late October.
Researchers calculated the difference in coronavirus case numbers both before and after specific counties enforced their mask mandate. They then calculated the change in COVID-19 cases for counties that require any masks.
After comparing the difference between counties that did have a mask mandate and those who didn’t, researchers concluded there was a “50% reduction in counties that had a mask mandate,” compared to the counties that didn’t have one.
“Masks do not eliminate COVID, but they significantly slow the spread of the disease, at least here in Kansas,” Ginther said.
Researchers specifically examined the trend of coronavirus cases in counties. Rather than looking at the hard, numerical data of daily cases, those who took part in the study calculated a seven-day rolling average to help come to their conclusion.
On average, the counties with mask mandates’ case numbers stay mostly flat, Ginther said.
In late October, Kansas health officials confirmed that over 1,000 people died statewide from the coronavirus.
“Remember that we are all in this together,” Kelly said during the press conference Wednesday. “Together, we’ll all get through it.”