The Parsons City Commission is taking a wait-and-see approach on whether to extend a mask mandate or let it expire on Oct. 1.
Ryan Robertson of Parsons, a former city commission candidate, asked commissioners on Monday if they were considering letting the ordinance expire. Robertson has been a vocal opponent of the ordinance that requires people to wear masks in public places except outside when social distancing is possible.
Many others in town have spoken against the ordinance online, and the city staff has received a few phone calls. City Manager Debbie Lamb said someone is working with the city to organize a peaceful protest against the mask ordinance in front of the Parsons Municipal Building before an upcoming commission meeting.
The law also mandates businesses to post signs telling customers that masks must be worn inside their buildings, and businesses need to require their employees to wear masks when they are in areas accessible by the public. Businesses, however, are not responsible for customers refusing to wear masks.
The ordinance has a sunset date of Oct. 1, but commissioners can extend the law before then.
In calling for an end to the ordinance, Robertson cited a recently released statistic from the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention that stated only 6% of COVID-19 fatalities involved people with no other comorbidities. On average, there were 2.6 additional conditions or causes per death, the report stated.
“Numbers can be manipulated and massaged so much,” Commissioner Tom Shaw said.
Shaw said his elderly relative died recently after contracting COVID-19. While other causes of death were listed along with COVID-19, she was relativity healthy before getting the virus. Her heart stopping was listed as the No. 1 cause, Shaw said. To say COVID-19 didn’t kill her is just not true, he said.
Robertson also cited an online petition to rescind the mask ordinance on change.org that has accumulated 1,068 supporters. A competing ordinance encouraging the commission to keep the ordinance has 710 supporters. Neither petition restricts people who live outside of Parsons.
The commissioners generally told Robertson they would have to wait to see the trend of positive coronavirus cases in Labette County before deciding if the law should be extended.
Shaw said Kansas is a hot spot now, and if the numbers continue as they are, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to let the ordinance expire, but he’s unsure how he would vote three weeks from now. The commission’s last regularly scheduled meeting before Oct. 1 is on Sept. 21. He added that masks are inexpensive and not a great inconvenience, so he’s not sure why people wouldn’t wear one even if it saves just one life.
Commissioner Leland Crooks said if the number of positive cases is trending downward, he will consider letting the mandate expire.
“It all rides on the numbers as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Robertson said the numbers have increased since the ordinance took effect in July, but Crooks said that begs the question of would the numbers be even higher without the mandate.
“You can’t prove either side of that equation,” he said.
Commissioners Kevin Cruse and Verlyn Bolinger also said they would have to study the numbers before making a decision. Cruse said he would not have a problem letting the ordinance expire if the numbers are going down, but he would favor reenacting the mandate if they started rising again after Oct. 1.
Mayor Jeff Perez, who initiated the ordinance, indicated he favors renewing the mandate.
“Right now where it stands with me, we’ve done the right thing. Trends are positive. The areas around us continue to grow. I feel like we hit a home run on the mask ordinance in the first place and it’s going to get nothing but better as time moves on,” Perez said.
The Parsons Police Department stepped up enforcement of the mask ordinance in recent weeks, and at least one business has been fined. Others received warnings.
Lamb said the police followed up on a few businesses that failed recent inspections, including Bordertown II and Casey’s convenience stores and All Seasons Floral.
The convenience stores were found in compliance. All Seasons posted the required sign at the door, but employees weren’t wearing masks. Lamb said the business was either fined or warned. Police Chief Robert Spinks wasn’t at Monday’s meeting to speak about the issue, and Assistant Chief Dennis Dodd didn’t address it. Lamb said the police planned to perform other followup inspections on Tuesday.