Attempt to create county mask mandate fails

Meghan Flynn
Colleen Drees, Finney County Health Department director, speaks about potentially enforcing a countywide mask mandate at Monday's Finney County Commission meeting. A motion to pass a mask mandate failed.

Community members and health professionals attended the Finney County Commission’s regular meeting Monday to speak to the commission about instituting a countywide mask mandate.

Commissioner William Clifford made a motion to have a mask mandate in place for two weeks that would then be reviewed every two weeks for renewal until the coronavirus positivity rate in the county falls below 20%.

The motion failed 1-4, with Commissioners Larry Jones, Duane Drees, Dave Jones and Lon Pishney dissenting.

Colleen Drees, Finney County Health Department director, said coronavirus cases in Finney County are increasing dramatically and something needs to be done differently to combat the increase.

What the county has been doing for the past six months has not worked, Drees said.

Dr. Rachel Svaty, a family medicine physician at Plaza Medical, agreed.

On Sept. 30, there were 2,169 cases reported by the Finney County Health Department. As of Oct. 30, there were 3,105 cases reported, an increase of 936 cases, Svaty said. That means 30% of all COVID-19 cases in Finney County have occurred in the month of October.

“Doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists, as well as health care workers across the board, are doing everything they can to provide the best possible care to patients. But the fact of the matter is there are just not enough of them to keep up with the cases that we have,” she said. “In light of this, we need to do more as a community.”

A study by the University of Kansas on Oct. 25 looked at COVID-19 cases in Kansas counties that adopted mask mandates on July 3 versus those that did not showed that counties with a mask mandate showed a decrease of cases 14 days after it was place, Svaty said. Case rates in counties with mask mandates have held steady, while those that do not have increased steadily.

“Overall it has show that counties with a mask mandate have a 50% reduction in spread,” she said. “Keep in mind that this is Kansas data, this is about us, and it shows that masks mandates do make a difference.”

Andy Flemer, interim CEO of St. Catherine Hospital, did not ask for a mask mandate but told the commission the hospital is stressed and something needs to be done to slow the virus’s spread.

“St. Catherine Hospital is the sole community provider for all those two and a half hours around with the only ICU. Our staffing is getting stressed and I have many a physicians out with COVID positive or with contact (to a positive case),” he said. “Most of the contact tracing is showing that they're getting COVID positive out in the community, not in the hospital. I'm just asking that you all consider looking at the measures you currently have in place and see what more can be one.”

Flemer said St. Catherine will conduct a “massive” education campaign encouraging “wearing masks, washing your hands and watching your distance.”