Hundreds of Johnson County residents attended a Facial Freedom Rally August 5 before the Johnson County Board of Commisioner’s meeting in downtown Olathe. The rally was organized by a grassroots organization UnMask KC. The meeting can be viewed on the Johnson County Faceook page. Photos courtesy of Lynne Hermansen
Special To The Gardner News
The Johnson County Board of Commissioners passed a mask mandate Aug. 5 for children Pre-K through 6th grade.
According to Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, since the beginning of the pandemic last year, 23 children have been hospitalized for Covid.
The public health order mandate was approved 5-2 after a four hour discussion with over 90 public comments. Public comments were restricted to two minutes each.
Commissioners Charlotte O’Hara and Michael Ashcraft voted against the mandate.
“CDC is only recommending,” O’Hara said. “Why are we mandating, why not let the schools and parents have final say.”
Ashcraft said he commended Chairman Ed Eilert’s efforts but the health order was not enforceable and only offered the illusion that it’s the solution to the problem.
Janee Hanzlick, commissioner, proposed an amendment to the order to extend from Pre-K to 12th graders. The motion failed 3-4.
“This is a targeted health intervention for the most vulnerable population,” Dr. Joseph LeMaster, health advisor for the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, said. “It is a conservative approach to keep schools open.”
The order also applies to faculty, staff and visitors to both public and private schools with grades pre-k through 6. School buildings that contain grades above sixth—students would either need to be separated from the younger grades or would also be required to wear masks. Masks will also be required on school buses for these age groups.
The mandate is set to begin August 9 and will end May 31, 2022, unless the commission votes between then to suspend the order.
The public health order does not apply to daycares not associated with schools.
Hundreds of people gathered outside for a “Facial Freedom Rally” expressing their opposition to the mandate.
The common arguments were concerns about bullying, breathing difficulties, socializing setbacks, speech issues, special needs kids, misinformation about the effectiveness of masks and harm of Covid-19, freedom, hot school busses, body autonomy and the county’s lack of authority.
Haley Williams, resident, said masks were ineffective, and the commissioners were engaging in political theater.
“If they had worked we wouldn’t be here,” she said. “It’s an asinine mask mandate written in fear.”
Emily Coleman, Spring Hill resident, said children were going to end up having to wear masks forever.
“This was never about health,” she said. “The government just wants to keep us around to experiment on.”
Several speakers expressed they should have the freedom as parents to decide what is best for their children and not the government.
“Please let parents be allowed to decide and have freedom of choice,” Ryan Hass, resident, said.
Chad Thompson, resident and father of three, said Covid-19 was here to stay, and they couldn’t mask forever.
“If you’re sick stay home,” he said.
Thompson said society should go back to how they treated the flu.
“Nothing makes sense anymore,” he said. “If it was truly about health why aren’t we boosting immune systems.”
Abbey Reichle, resident, said she had seen photos of commissioners engaging in the community without masks.
“How dare you mandate masks for our kids,” she said.
Kevin Combs, resident, said as a mechanical engineer the mechanics of masks are common sense, ineffective and they do not filtrate two directionally.
“When you exhale it blows out the sides,” he said.
Combs said commissioners were covering their butts from liability.
“Proper action here is no action,” he said. “As of today we are doing fine—our community is healing.”
Adrianna Foster, former Roeland Park mayor, said they needed to stop telling her children what they can and can’t do.
“How would it make you feel when someone outside your family told you how to handle your child’s health,” she said.
Several parents, doctors and health workers spoke to the commission for the mandate and to expand it to all school ages.
Cindy Holscher, Kansas State Senator from Overland Park, said she was tired of the pandemic, and the toll it had taken on everyone.
“The virus doesn’t care how tired I am of it,” she said. “It’s sole purpose is to find a host and mutate.”
Holscher said unvaccinated children will see the brunt of the disease.
“The virus is partying it up in the USA and the Midwest is the epicenter,” she said.
Local doctors and nurses said they were concerned if no actions were taken the strain on the medical system will increase and greatly effect health workers with children.
Dr. Joseph Julian said kids will be the drivers of the illness.
“Children’s hospitals are currently going through the winter viral season right now,” he said.
Edward King, nurse practitioner, said he was seeing more unvaccinated people with severe cases, especially children under the age of 12.
“It is not political, and it isn’t infringing on people’s rights,” he said. “It is a simple health measure.”
Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, said he was worried about the upcoming school year and a school’s indoor environment is perfect for proliferation of the virus.
Areola presented hospitalization data for children in Johnson County and said since the beginning of the pandemic, 15 children ages 12 to 17 were hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19, and eight children ages three to 11 were hospitalized. Areola said three children have been hospitalized since June.
Areola said the rate the numbers are going it is going to get scary.
“It is a recipe for disaster,” he said.
LeMaster said masks would be the critical element in keeping schools open and intervention was needed to avoid returning to remote school.
“It had a negative effect on children physically and emotionally,” he said.
Parents said they were concerned schools would close again after the first week, and their kids would be sent home missing their education and needed social skills. Parents said they also had struggled to find proper care for their kids when schools originally went to remote and many had to quit their jobs. They said they worried about the economic cost to society and businesses.
Melissa Jenner, resident, said if kids were in quarantine no one would be available to fill their service industry jobs.
Parents said not keeping their kids in school greatly effected their physical and mental well-beings.
Rebecca Gagg, resident, said she had to quit her job in order to be at home with her children and virtual school was no longer an option.
“No one will hire me because my children will have to quarantine every few weeks,” she said. “Give families like me a fighting chance.”
Karen Gizler, resident, said she had seen the heartbreaking emotional toll closing schools had taken on a child.
“Schools need to be able to be open,” she said. “Ripples create tsunamis.”
Heather King, resident, said why would doctors and scientists lie.
“What do they have to gain,” she said. “Wearing a mask isn’t taking away my freedom but for the safety of all.”
Eilert said they all shared the same objective of wanting to keep the schools open and kids in school.
“If we are going to kick the virus we need to get vaccinated,” he said.
Some Johnson county schools open August 12.