County details mask rules; COVID cases rise in EJC

Jeff Fox

Jackson County has posted details on the face mask rule that goes into effect Wednesday as coronavirus cases continue to rise in Eastern Jackson County, where they have nearly doubled in June.

Starting Wednesday, people in Jackson County have to wear face masks when in public spaces. That means indoor spaces such as businesses, workplaces, schools, libraries, community centers and libraries. That also includes outdoor spaces such as parks and playgrounds, farmers markets, bar and restaurant outdoor seating areas, and public transportation.

There are exceptions for the deaf, the hard of hearing and those with medical conditions under which a cloth mask could obstruct breathing. Also, the county says children under 2 should not wear face coverings, but those 2 to 4 are strongly encouraged – with close adult supervision – to wear a mask when in public and unable to stay six feet away from non-family members. Still, those under 5 are not required to wear masks.

Also, the county is now allowing in-person instruction in schools, playgrounds can reopen and outdoor gatherings can have up to 100 people.

Kansas City and Wyandotte County already require masks, and a statewide order in Kansas takes effect Friday, meaning most of the metro area will have mask orders in place.

"The science is clear that when we wear masks, we limit the spread of droplets being passed on to others when we talk, cough or sneeze,” Jackson County Health Department Director Bridgette Shaffer is quoted as saying in a county press release. “While some of us are wearing masks in public, we must increase usage to best control the virus. Mask wearing is one of the simplest and least invasive tools we have to protect our families, friends, and neighbors in Jackson County.”

Jackson County announced its order Monday, the same day Shaffer told county legislators about a surge in local cases – from 613 on June 1 to 1,149 as of early Monday.

“That’s 536 new cases just in the month of June,” she said.

Those figures have been higher in the later part of the month. The highest number for a single week was the week of June 15, and the second highest was the week of June 22.

She said 36 people in Eastern Jackson County have died of COVID-19, compared with 32 Kansas City. Of the Eastern Jackson County deaths, 20 have been in nursing homes and similar facilities, and she said the county is currently monitoring 10 outbreaks in such facilities.

She said 83 percent of those who have tested positive have shown symptoms of coronavirus and 17 percent have not. In 11 percent of the cases, the person has needed to go to the hospital.

Metrowide, as of Monday, there were 8,635 cases and 266 deaths, she said.

The county Health Department continues to hire contact tracers, with funds the County Legislature approved weeks ago. That is part of the long-term strategy widely being used to get a grip on the spread of coronavirus. It’s the same strategy public-health officials have long used, for instance, to control the spread of sexually transmitted disease: ID the patient, then reach out to those who have been in contact with that patient.

“We’re still staffing up to be able to fully do the box-it-in strategy at this point,” Shaffer said. “That is widespread testing. When we have that positive (COVID-19) individual, we isolate that individual, we elicit close contacts, we quarantine those close contacts, and that helps minimize the spread of disease in our community.”