Garden City approves mask ordinance

Meghan Flynn
Local businesses are encouraging patrons to wear masks or requiring them to, such as The Corner on Main, left, and Ascension Via Christi Home Medical, next door to each other in the 300 block of N. Main Street. The city commission voted Wednesday to have a face mask ordinance, beginning on Nov. 16, in Garden City.

Face coverings will now be required in public spaces within Garden City to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The Garden City Commission approved an ordinance requiring the wearing of face coverings in public spaces within the city limits at a special meeting Wednesday.

Garden City Regional Airport and Buffalo Dunes Golf Course are also included in the ordinance.

It was approved with a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Roy Cessna and Manny Ortiz dissenting.

The ordinance will go into effect on Nov. 16 and will remain in effect for 30 days, until Dec. 15, unless extended by the commission for additional 30-day windows.

Additionally, the ordinance could be rescinded at any time by the commission by a majority vote.

As defined by the ordinance, a face covering is “a covering of the nose and mouth that is secured to the head with ties, straps or loops over the ears or is simply wrapped around the lower face.”

It can be made of a variety of fabrics and have ideally two or more layers. It can be factory made or handmade or improvised from household items such as a bandana, scarf, T-shirt or towel.

In the ordinance, a public space is any indoor or outdoor space or area open to the public. It does not include “private residential property or private offices or work spaces not open to customers clients, patients or other public visitors.”

People within the city are required to wear a mask when:

• Inside any indoor public space where social distance of 6 feet is not possible.

• In line and waiting to enter an indoor public space.

• Waiting for or riding on public transportation or while in a taxi, private car service or ride-sharing vehicle.

• Outdoors in public spaces and unable to maintain a 6-foot distance between individuals, excluding individuals who reside together, with only infrequent or incidental moments of closer proximity.

• Obtaining services from the healthcare sector such as a hospital, pharmacy, medical clinic, laboratory, physician, optometric office, dental office, veterinary clinic or blood bank unless directed otherwise by an employee of healthcare provider.

Face coverings are also required for businesses, organizations and associations of all kinds.

All employees and all other persons are required to wear a face coverings when employees are in a space visited by customers and members of the public, in a space where food is prepared or packaged for sale or distribution and are in any enclosed space where people cannot maintain a 6-foot distance.

Also, customers, visitors or members of the public are required to wear a covering while in a facility managed by the business, organization or association.

Exemptions to the ordinance include:

• Children age 5 or under.

• People with a medical condition, mental health condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering.

• People who are deaf or hard of hearing or those communicating with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing where seeing the mouth is essential for communication.

• People are obtaining a service involving the nose or face where temporary removal is necessary.

• People seated at a restaurant or establishment that offers food or beverage service while they are eating or drinking provided a 6-foot distance is maintained between individuals who are not seated together.

• Athletes engaged in organized sports activity.

• People engaged in an activity that a professional or recreational association, regulatory entity, medical association or public-health-oriented entity has deemed unsafe to conduct while wearing a face covering.

• People discharging duties as a first responder when a face covering would interfere with safe and efficient performance of duties.

• People engaged in court-related proceedings.

• Persons engaged in any lawful activity during which wearing a face covering is prohibited by law.

• People engaged in religious activities including, but not limited to, worship services.

The ordinance will be enforced by the police and any person, business organization or association who violates the ordinance will be given an infraction.

If convicted of a violation there is a $10 fine. A second violation is $25 and a third violation and up is $50. There will be no court costs associated as a result of a conviction.

Garden City Police Chief Michael Utz said enforcement will be mirrored to standard traffic ordinances and traffic violations, such as running a stop sign and parking violations. It’s an infraction and would involve a citation and release.

“Officers would have the discretion and we would push out the education of the ordinances in place and have masks with us and try to encourage compliance before any enforcement action would be taken,” he said. “It would be a cite and release. The rumors that the police would haul people to jail and all that is not true, that would not happen.”

Randy Grisell, the city’s legal counsel, said the city can legally enforce an ordinance, and the concern that the city cannot do so is “without merit.”

“We have home rule that we can enact ordinance that protect the safety, welfare and health of our citizens,” he said.

Grisell gave an example of a 1905 Supreme Court case that dealt with the ability of state of Massachusetts to compel its citizens to be vaccinated in the time of an epidemic.

“The Supreme Court said that when you're into issues of public health, where there's a public health emergency, that a state entity, a local entity, a national entity can enact laws that go beyond what normally you would see the governmental entity doing,” he said.

Language in that case says that in times of a health emergency constitutional rights can be limited and can be restricted, Grisell said.

“I’m not so convinced that the right not to wear a mask is a constitutional right, nor is choice a constitutional right, but at least we have some law out there that tells us as a municipality in Kansas that we do have the legal authority to enact an ordinance like this,” he said.

Additionally, the city has enacted ordinances like this before when dealing with health, safety and welfare, Grisell said. They have withstood any “scrutiny that might have been applied to them.”

Commissioner Manny Ortiz, who dissented the ordinance, said there are some items in the mandate that are unclear to him, that can be misinterpreted.

One example is the requirement of wearing a face covering while in a public space which includes outdoor space that’s open to the public, Ortiz said.

“It says outdoors, does that mean public or does that mean everywhere on the street, as soon as I cross the property line on my house do I need to put it on?” he said. “There's just a lot of things that are just up in the air.”

Ortiz said he feels there should be more education on how to slow the spread of COVID-19 rather than the enforcement of people wearing a mask.

It’s a tough decision to make, Ortiz said. He’s both for and against the ordinance.

“I think we are trying as a commission to help everyone, and I know it's tough ... it’s really hard and I don't know all the answers,” he said.

Commissioner Shannon Dick, who voted in favor of the ordinance, agrees that it was a tough decision, especially as the coronavirus is so new and, unlike chicken pox, there’s not mountains of studies with information.

However, there is information, research and studies out about COVID-19, Dick said.

One piece of information Dick looked at was a study called “Wrong person, place and time: viral load and contact network structure predict SARS-CoV-2 transmission and super-spreading events,” which looks at how the virus is spread.

It found that 10%-20% of the people are causing 80% of COVID-19 infections, Dick said. A few people are spreading it at “super-spreader” events.

This is happening because unlike other illnesses, people are most infectious 24 hours before they start showing symptoms, Dick said, which makes the virus difficult to contain.

The study also talks about seeing a relationship between how much of a dose a person gets correlating to how severe it is and the chances of going to the ICU, Dick said.

Masks are important because they can reduce the dose of coronavirus someone could get, he said. The virus is transmitted via water droplets expelled from a person’s breathing, and the cloth masks catch some of the droplets.

“Like everybody says, it's not perfect, all the research show's it's not perfect, but it does reduce,” he said. “Me wearing this right now isn't protecting everybody from getting me sick, it's if I'm sick and I start feeling symptoms tomorrow, not getting everybody else here sick.”

Commissioner Deb Oyler said the masks are one way to stop the spread of coronavirus, but education on the virus, its spread and other ways to prevent the spread is another important aspect.

“I really appreciate the health department and their campaign to challenge people to wear their masks, wear their distance, wash their hands,” she said. “A mask is one piece of that, and being able to help with slowing that spread.”