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Masks now mandated in Pratt County

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
Businesses and stores requiring masks for entrance increase in Pratt as county commissioners rescind order against governor's ruling and now make it mandatory for persons to wear masks in public in Pratt. PRMC continues to enact a mask-wearing requirement for entrance.

In a move precipitated by a spike in local COVID-19 postive cases, Pratt County Commissioners met July 16 and voted to rescind a resolution made July 3 to now require those in Pratt County to wear masks in public.

On July 2, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly had issued an executive order requiring face masks or other face coverings be worn by all in public to help stem the rising numbers of coronavirus cases in the state. However, Pratt County commissioners voted at that time to follow their own guidelines and not require such masks in the county. Their unanimous vote last Thursday changed that ruling.

According to the rescinding order, Pratt County is experiencing a rise in COVID-19 related cases and the potential for significant community spread.

The Pratt County Health Department released numbered cases on Monday, showing 16 active coronavirus cases now on record for the county, a significant increase since last week.

In a physicians statement, released also on Thursday, 12 doctors in Pratt joined together to go on record saying the time to protect Pratt is now.

The statement, released by PRMC and through several media sources, went on to say that masks must be worn by all individuals over the age of 5 when out in public or when physical distancing is not possible to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the area.

The press release stated: We understand that there are strong opinions regarding such a “mandate”. We understand that masks are uncomfortable and hot. (We wear them all day every day) We also understand the science that wearing masks in public has been shown to be a very effective strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Currently we have 22 positive COVID-19 cases with 10 of those documented as active in our County. It would not be wise to wait until we have an outbreak to enact these necessary community-wide changes.

We know there are schoolteachers and administrators who are struggling with how keep our children and families safe but are meeting strong resistance to masks from both students and parents. We know there are business owners who would prefer such a mandate but will not act alone because they do not want to turn away or offend patrons. We understand there are pastors who recognize the importance of masks for their congregation but would never confront an unmasked worshiper. A mask mandate works and will take the pressure off these critical organizations.

We must do everything we can to prevent this from taking off in Pratt. Our state health official Dr. Lee Norman said in a recent news conference that it could take two incubation cycles - or 28 days - to see the effect of universal masking. If we hope to see our schools open and operating in August… We need to protect Pratt now. If you want our restaurants to stay open… We need to protect Pratt now. If you want our stores and small business to continue to serve our region.

We need to protect Pratt now. If you want Pratt Regional Medical Center to continue to operate as usual with full surgical, lab, clinical, and diagnostic services… We need to protect Pratt now.

We request all Pratt County residents listen to the physicians of their community and protect Pratt now.

The statement was signed by Gene Cannata MD; Eric Clarkson DO, MBA; Steven Donnenwerth MD; Wakon Fowler MD; Scott Gordon DPM; Mark Green PhD; Rachael Hauser MD; Ian Kovach MD, PhD; Alex Neel MD; Alan Pribil MD; Brenda Westhoff, MD and Aaron Zook MD.

In accordance with the mandate made by the county to now follow the state’s mask order, Pratt County Sheriff Jimmy White also issued a statement on how he and his office would respond to law enforcement with this issue.

“2020 has become an unforgettable year for all of us.  As our country's leadership has made life changing mandates that closed businesses, churches, schools, and gave no choices to the people affected,” White said. 

“This Sheriff still believes in the fundamental rights given to all people within the borders of this beautiful nation. 

“While I ask everyone to be sensitive to each other's opinions on this issue, I do not want any citizen in this county to feel there is a threat of law enforcement action by my office. 

“I do wish to warn everyone that every business has the right to refuse service for not wearing a mask, which is not a criminal act, until a person refuses to leave a business, or acts in a disorderly manner. 

“As far as the church is concerned, I will never send armed law enforcement officers into a church to shut down religious services or make arrests based on a mandate.  All people have the right to believe, or not believe in any faith they wish without government interference.

“Please be respectful to others, this is a serious issue and many people are in great fear.  While I strongly back your rights, you need to strongly respect and help each other through these frustrating times.”

Many stores and businesses in Pratt now require individuals to wear masks upon entry. Love’s, Dillons, Walmart, Dollar Tree and Dollar General are some that are following the governor’s order to the letter and there may be others. Pratt Regional Medical Center continues to require masks be worn by those entering the facility.