Beginning Friday, Kansans in public spaces where social distancing can’t be maintained will be required to wear masks.
Gov. Laura Kelly announced at a news conference Monday she plans to sign an executive order this week that would mandate mask use in public spaces statewide. She said the order would go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, in advance of the Fourth of July weekend.
"If we want a healthy Kansas economy, we need healthy businesses and healthy Kansans," Kelly said. "Therefore, I’m announcing that beginning 12:01 a.m. July 3 every Kansan in a public space must wear a mask.
"This doesn’t change where you can go or what you can do. It just means if you’re around other people, you must wear a mask."
Kelly said enforcement should occur at the local level, and she encouraged city and county officials to take the order seriously.
"As cases continue to rise, masks are the best defense to keep Kansans at work, to get our kids back to school and to keep ourselves and our neighbors healthy," Kelly said.
At the news conference, the governor pointed to an upward trend in new coronavirus cases in the state as a reason for mandating mask use.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported 14,443 positive COVID-19 cases Monday — an increase of 905 cases since Friday, Kelly said. The agency has reported 270 deaths across the state.
Though the governor thinks the mask mandate is in the best interest of Kansans, she does expect pushback from some state residents and legislators.
"I do expect there will be some who will be outraged by this order, but I also have been following what’s been going on across the country," she said. "More and more you are seeing even Republican leaders stepping up and mandating the masks or giving very clear guidance to folks that this is the one way, until we have a vaccine, to slow the spread of this virus."
Senate President Susan Wagle condemned Kelly’s mandate Monday evening, saying a one-size-fits-all order doesn’t work for Kansas.
"She’s inconsistent in her direction, one day giving authority to local government and the next taking it back, causing total confusion," Wagle said. "Gov. Kelly should focus on doing her job of managing her agencies, and allow the local officials to do theirs."
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer sided with Kelly.
"As we see a continuous rise in COVID-19 cases, wearing masks is an effective way to reduce the spread and should be encouraged," Sawyer said. "Gov. Kelly is doing what she feels is necessary to ensure the health and safety of both Kansans and our state’s economy."
Over the weekend, COVID-19 deaths worldwide topped 500,000, and the number of confirmed coronavirus cases across the globe surpassed 10 million, according to data from the Coronavirus Resource Center at John Hopkins University. The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though, estimates the number of confirmed cases is likely about 10 times higher than reported.
Kelly’s mask mandate is in line with CDC recommendations.
Kelly said Monday that Kansas has had 210 cluster sites of coronavirus cases, 101 of which remain active. She said the clusters account for more than 6,000 cases, 440 hospitalizations and 201 deaths in the state.
"COVID-19 is still in our communities," Kelly said. "It is still spreading."
She said wearing masks is necessary to avoid another shutdown of the state’s economy.
"When we look at where we are seeing clusters of cases, we are not seeing them in businesses where masks are worn," Kelly said. "We have no clusters attributed to barber shops, hair salons or dental offices. However, we are seeing a significant increase in clusters related to gatherings where masks are not being worn."