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‘Masks optional’: Platte County rejects mask mandate amid latest COVID-19 surge

·2 min read

The Platte County Health Department Board of Trustees has unanimously rejected a proposal to reinstate a mask mandate, deciding instead to recommend masks be worn in some public settings based on personal choice as COVID-19 continues to surge in the region.

Following a two-hour special session, the three board members agreed on Thursday night that mask-wearing should just be optional. The decision came after a few dozen area residents packed the meeting, several voicing opposition to a return to masks.

A proposed order would have required mask-wearing in parts of Platte County not within Kansas City. Kansas City has its own order, which took effect Monday, requiring masks be worn indoors when visiting public spaces for people over the age of 5 regardless of vaccination status.

The board’s decision goes against a recommendation supported by Mary Jo Vernon, director of the Platte County Health Department.

Vernon said she had been in conversations with local schools concerned about having enough staff to keep classrooms open as COVID-19’s delta variant continues its spread. She also said area residents on opposite sides of the issue have the same ultimate goal.

“We want the exact same outcome,” Vernon said. “We want this pandemic to be over. We want all citizens to be healthy and return to normal. We want children to be able to attend in-person school, and we want schools to be able to stay open.

“This is not about giving up our freedoms. It’s about standing together to fight this pandemic.”

Roughly a dozen public speakers addressed board members ahead of the decision. Several characterized the mandate as an affront on their civil liberties as well as those of their children. A few spoke in favor.

Jeff Kinsley, a pediatrician and board member, explained he would vote “masks optional” based on his personal belief that “family and parents make the decisions” when it comes to health care matters. He also said vaccines should be strongly encouraged to protect vulnerable people from getting sick.

Kinsley received a standing ovation.

Meanwhile, cases in the Kansas City metropolitan area are increasing as many local health experts have strongly recommended people get one of the widely available COVID-19 vaccines. Some have urged local leaders to adopt new rules.

On Wednesday, the Kansas City area added 1,115 new cases in a single day, reaching a high point not seen since January.

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