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One Johnson County city to let mask mandate expire, while another extends its order

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One northeast Johnson County city on Monday agreed to let its mask mandate expire at the end of this month, while another extended its mandate through mid-November.

The Prairie Village City Council decided against prolonging its citywide mask mandate, meaning it will expire at midnight Oct. 31. Meanwhile, the Roeland Park City Council decided to extend its mask order until Nov. 16.

The decisions come as the number of new COVID-19 cases steadily declines in Johnson County, after sharp peaks this summer. On Monday, the county reported an incidence rate — or the number of new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days — of 91 per 100,000. That’s down from a rate of 191 per 100,000 on Sept. 16.

And that puts Johnson County in the “substantial” community transmission category, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At that level, the CDC continues to recommend everyone wear masks indoors in public.

Johnson County does not have a countywide mandate. It only requires masks in schools that serve students as old as sixth grade, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

In response, Prairie Village and Roeland Park passed their own mandates.

Prairie Village’s order allows businesses to opt out if they require proof of full vaccination upon entry. Roeland Park’s order exempts gatherings where parties have “actual or constructive knowledge” that everyone is fully vaccinated.

In Prairie Village, Councilman Ian Graves recommended extending the order for an additional week, to better align with mask orders in Kansas City and Jackson County, but his motion failed. Council members highlighted the declining number of new COVID-19 cases, as well as the harm of the pandemic on small businesses.

“Folks, we are not in the clear on this yet,” Mayor Eric Mikkelson said. “We’ll need everybody still paying attention to this to avoid the next surge.”

City officials urged business owners and the public to continue following COVID-19 protocols, including wearing masks, social distancing and getting vaccinated.

As they have throughout the pandemic, Kansas City area residents are left to navigate a patchwork of COVID-19 health orders.

Earlier this month, the Jackson County Legislature extended its mask order until 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 6. Kansas City’s mask order is in effect until Nov. 4.

The Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas has extended its mask mandate through Nov. 18.

In Roeland Park, which borders Wyandotte County, city officials said they wanted to extend their mask mandate, which was set to expire on Tuesday, to ensure that cases continue to decline after Halloween.

City officials also agreed to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the parochial Bishop Miege High School, which made masks optional in September, putting it at odds with the citywide mandate.

The agreement states that if 8% of the school population tests positive for COVID-19 within seven days, the school would mandate masks. According to the school’s dashboard, four new cases were reported the week of Oct. 11-15, roughly 0.5% of the population.

Several City Council members said the agreement was too weak, with some saying it essentially amounted to an informational pamphlet. They questioned how the city would know whether the school was enforcing any of the safety measures spelled out in the agreement.

“This is a formal public relationship, where yes, we need to have some trust. But we also need to see some public verification that this is happening in order to really be true to the relationship,” Councilman Michael Rebne said.

“The CDC is still saying that all children in schools, age K-12, should be masking. They’ve put out studies showing that schools without masking have higher COVID cases,” Councilwoman Jennifer Hill said. “We can’t just keep hoping that this is going to go away. Masking works and we know it works.”

Bishop Miege officials previously said in a letter to families that it would continue to monitor COVID-19 cases and return to a mask requirement “should there be compelling reasons to do so.”

Despite concerns from some of the council, Mayor Mike Kelly said the memorandum of understanding shows progress as the city and school work to build a partnership to combat the spread of the virus.

The agreement also states that the school will endeavor to require three feet of social distancing when possible, continue to promote vaccinations, and test staff and students who have been exposed to the virus or are showing symptoms of COVID, among other steps recommended by the CDC.

It will remain in place through early January, unless amended.

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