COVID Cases Climbing, No Mask Mandate

December 13, 2021

By Mallory Herrmann , Staff Reporter

There will not be a new mask mandate for the county. The Jackson County Legislature voted 5–4 on Monday against issuing a new mask mandate in the face of COVID-19 cases, which are once again climbing in the area. The mandate would have required masks for all persons ages five and older, regardless of vaccination status, in indoor public places until Jan. 12.

Bridgette Shaffer, director of the Jackson County Health Department, presented data to the legislature on current cases and vaccination rates at their Dec. 13 session. The county has seen its highest 7-day rate since the week of Aug. 15 and had 138 new hospitalizations on Dec. 8 – up from the 82 hospitalizations tracked on Nov. 9, just before the legislature voted to end its previous mask mandate on Nov. 12.

Cases among unvaccinated persons are nearly five times higher than the breakthrough cases found in vaccinated persons and are more likely to require hospitalization.

Many of the legislators said that vaccinations, not masking, is the community’s best hope of slowing the virus’s spread. But only 58.13% of county residents have been fully vaccinated as of Dec. 5. That vaccination rate was characterized as “inadequate” for a community the size of Jackson County.

Ray Dlugolecki, assistant health director for the Jackson County Health Department, cautioned against removing any of the mitigation strategies available to the community. Noting that vaccinations, handwashing, air filtration and social distancing were all critical to reducing overall cases, he said that masking, too, is important.

“We’re talking about an extraordinarily communicable disease,” Legislator Crystal Williams, one of the resolution’s sponsors, said.

“Masking had a time and place,” Legislator Tony Miller said. He said that the county should redouble its efforts to support vaccination efforts and contact tracing rather than focusing energy on masking, which has proved to be such a divisive issue among the public.

Legislator Theresa Cass Galvin noted that the cities of Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs had already scheduled special meetings the same day as the legislature’s session with the intent of opposing a new mask mandate. She said that the issue of masking should be left to the individual, to businesses who may choose to require masks, or to school districts who wish to enforce masking in schools.

“I think we have to do everything we possibly can to save lives,” Legislator Ronald E. Finley said, citing the approximately 2,600 new cases and 14 deaths in the county since the last mask mandate was ended.

Anderson, Burnett, Finley and Williams voted in favor of the resolution. Franklin, Galvin, Lauer, Miller and Tarwater voted against.

About a dozen members of the public holding signs against the mandate cheered when the vote was tallied.