Mask mandate approved for Jackson County

At the request of Angie Reith, Jackson County local health officer, the Jackson County Commissioners approved a new public health all county order today (Friday) that, effective immediately, requires county residents to wear face masks in public and limits gatherings in the county to 25 for the next 10 days.

“We have more than 100 active COVID-19 cases in our county,” Reith told the commissioners at a special meeting on Friday. “I’ve consulted with our staff, and we’ve determined that we have an uncontrolled spread of the virus in the county.”

Reith said that “uncontrolled spread” means that she and her staff are no longer able to easily identify the source of new COVID-19 cases in the county.

“It’s community acquired,” she said. “There’s a large amount of cases where we can’t trace contact back to.”

Reith reported 19 new positive COVID-19 cases on Thursday in the county and 14 on Wednesday and at least two new hospitalizations.

“It’s beyond the scope of our health department. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is now assisting us,” she said.

The new order, which was approved on a 3-0 vote of the county commission, also requires restaurants and bars to keep groups of customers at least six feet apart.

Religious gatherings are exempt from the mass gathering requirement, it was reported. 

The health order will be reviewed and reevaluated by the commissioners on Monday, Nov. 23.

“I know the holidays are coming up, but this is not a time to back off on measures to slow down the virus,” Reith said. “It’s getting colder and more people are moving inside without masks, which is increasing the risk of exposure.”

Reith said the new health order was also recommended to alleviate the strain felt by health care professionals.

“Thank you to all the local medical providers and Holton Community Hospital employees tirelessly working to treat people. We have to work together to help medical personnel and keep hospital beds open,” Reith said. “Adding COVID-19 cases to normal hospitalizations is becoming too much.”

Holton Community Hospital administrators reported this week that five of the hospitals’ staff members are out sick with COVID-19. 

“People thought they were safe and that it wasn’t going to happen to them because we’re rural. They think that they don’t have to wear a mask because this doesn’t happen here,” said Dr. Malia Warner, HCH Chief Medical Officer. “This is now happening here. It’s happening everywhere.”

Reith said that the severity of the situation in the county has prompted these new guidelines.

“I don’t make these decisions lightly,” she said. “It affects people’s lives and businesses. We need to hit the pause button and see where we are on Nov. 23. I appreciate the public’s help in stopping the spread of the virus so we can enjoy the holidays. Let’s try to keep our community safer.”

Commissioner Janet Zwonitzer said that while she has been hesitant in the past to pass a mask mandate, she said things have changed.

“It’s difficult to pass a mandate that can’t be enforced, but at this time, we’ve moved to uncharted territory,” Zwonitzer said. “It concerns me that we can’t pinpoint where cases are coming from. That we have no idea concerns me a lot.”

Both Jefferson County and Nemaha County officials issued similar masked mandates this week. Jefferson County officials have also “strongly recommended” that members of the public limit gatherings to 75 people or less.

The Holton Recorder

109 W. Fourth St.
Holton, KS 66436
Phone: 785-364-3141

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