Cherokee County drops masks mandate, Columbus faculties loosen masks necessities


Columbus School Board to review guidelines during February meeting.

January 13, 2021, 7:19 p.m.

Zachary Dodge

Posted: Jan 13, 2021 at 7:19 pm

Updated: January 13, 2021, 7:38 pm

CHEROKEE COUNTY, Kan. – On Monday, January 11, commissioners in Cherokee County voted to end the statewide mask mandate.

Call for a similar change in the Columbus schools.

“Our plan is following what the county is doing and the required mask mandate has been lifted,” said Brian Smith, superintendent of the Columbus School District. “Our board of directors and many people believe in local control. So they wanted to follow what the County Health (board) said. And really, the commissioners are advised by the district health department. I think if the county health thought it was bad not to have a mask mandate, they would have occurred. “

On November 23, the Cherokee County Commission put Governor Laura Kelly’s stately mask mandate into effect. That means anyone in Cherokee County who was inside a building or who was not social distant had to wear a mask.

Commissioner Cory Moates said they decided to accept the mandate in November because a large number of people wanted them to accept the mandate. And this recent change is fueled in the same way by community feedback, only from people who don’t want the mandate.

Commission Lorie Johnson, sworn in on Monday to replace outgoing Commissioner Neal Anderson, says the same. However, a telephone conversation added that after the mandate was introduced, the number of counties increased and it was said, “Mandates don’t work.” Johnson declined an on-camera interview on the subject.

The county information officer, David Groves, said the number of positive cases in Cherokee county has steadily increased.

“While part of this mandate requires the wearing of masks, there is no enforcement component. It was a civil action if people were not compliant, but there was no criminal component. So if people wanted to wear masks, they did it. If they didn’t want to, they didn’t. And there were numerous exclusions where a person could be exempt from wearing anyway, ”says Groves.

According to the Cherokee County Health Department, there were 188 active positive cases and a total of 1,070 documented cases as of November 23, the day the commission put the mask mandate into effect.

As of December 23, one month later, there were 179 active positive cases and a total of 1604 documented cases.

As of January 12, the latest available data from the county, a total of 1,959 cases were documented. The local briefing for the 12th did not include the current number of active cases and KDHE does not have this number on their website.

According to Groves, it is possible that the increase in cases was due to the year-end holidays.

“Cherokee County’s health authorities continue to encourage residents to do the things they said they were from the beginning,” says Groves. “Regardless of what a government dictates or not, these are just best practices in preventing the spread of infectious diseases.”

When it comes to students and staff in the Columbus School District, they no longer have to wear masks in district buildings. But they have to carry them on buses and in school vehicles.

“We always needed masks on a school bus or vehicle because these are very closed areas,” says Smith. “And, as you recall, some people were disappointed with us because we cut the number of students on the bus and limited it to one student per seat.”

Smith says they will continue to follow all of the other safety protocols they put in place, which have been followed since the schools reopened this spring.

He also says the change is not a big one for students or parents in the district as they “are just going back to what they did for most of the fall semester”. Smith states that students or staff were not required to wear masks in district buildings unless the county mask mandate was in effect.

“It seems like we’ve created an average of one (new case) per week over time. And like I said, we’d isolate them pretty quickly. And the parents were great at keeping all the students in the family home until we could find out, ”says Smith.

Smith explains that there have been no cases of intra-school transmission in the district where a student tested positive and passed the virus to other students or staff at the school.

There are currently 3 students and 4 staff members who are considered active positive cases. Throughout the school year, 36 students and 26 staff members tested positive, out of approximately 900 students and 150 staff members in the district.

“We actually had more (active cases) during the mask mandate, but I suspect it was due to the holidays,” explains Smith. “None of our close contacts came into contact with the virus. I think that says the things we do work.”

The area they had the most cases in was in high school, where 23 students tested positive.

“Students feel pretty invincible at this age. So we can take whatever safety precautions we want within the school day and then four or five of them get into a car with the windows open and no mask. Wherever in school we separated them, we try to open windows, we actually have air disinfection systems that we use for this reason. We measure their temperatures when they enter the building. We have hand sanitizer, ”says Smith. “I mean, we have all kinds of safeguards, but when they walk out the school door at the end of the day, sometimes a lot of it goes out the window.”

Since the start of the school year, 12 students at Central Junior High School tested positive, 1 student at Highland Elementary, and no students at Parke Elementary.

“Schools have been instrumental in helping to ensure the health and safety of their employees and students from the start,” says Groves.

Smith says since the district commission decided to end the statewide mask mandate, the district has a chance to revisit its guidelines and find a system that works for each individual school if the board deems it necessary. He says the school board plans to have this discussion at their next meeting on February 8th.

“But I hope before that happens we will have vaccines available to our employees,” says Smith. “The county has already started talking about lists and we have a list of teachers and well over half of our staff have signed up for the vaccination. And it will be a huge relief for me personally to know that you had the opportunity to have this protection. “

Smith anticipates coronavirus vaccines will be available to employees in the next three weeks.

Like most times a mask mandate has been discussed in the four states, residents have different opinions on the matter.

Some of the Columbus residents we spoke to are happy that the commission voted to end the mandate. Many say they will wear a mask if necessary but think it should be a personal choice.

But others, like resident Gary Pruitt, are disappointed with the decision.

“I think we should all wear masks,” says Pruitt. “With my health and many people here who cannot get vaccinations yet, they have to wear masks.”

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