Kansas, Shawnee County and Topeka have different rules for mask wearing. When and where are masks required?

Blaise Mesa
Topeka Capital-Journal

Anyone in Shawnee County can opt out of the mask mandate, but the city of Topeka and Shawnee County buildings have slightly different rules. 

Commissioners voted on Monday to allow any party in Shawnee County to opt out of the mask mandate. That could mean businesses, churches or nonprofits might not require masks.

Commissioner Aaron Mays introduced the amendment so the county could have additional legal protection. Senate Bill 40 made it possible for people to sue the county over mask mandates.

How did mask requirements in Shawnee County change?

Recent votes by the commissioners made COVID-19 health orders recommendations rather than restrictions and allowed “any party” to opt out of the mask mandate. 

On Thursday, the county commissioners voted 2-1 to make masks optional in all county buildings, except for the health department and Department of Corrections facilities. Commission chairman Kevin Cook voted against the amendment to the resolution. That means any vaccine clinic the health department runs can still require masks. 

The Stormont Vail Events Center will still require masks during the vaccination clinic.

Brian Cole, director of the Department of Corrections, and Teresa Fisher, interim director of the health department, said they want masks to continue to be worn in their departments. 

“I’ll be the first person to tell you jails are not built for pandemics,” Cole told commissioners. “I truly believe and support that masks have helped us at the jail.”

More:Kansas governor re-issues COVID-19 executive orders; GOP leaders revoke mask mandate

Cole said jails have been linked to COVID-19 clusters despite having strict protocols in place. He said the Shawnee County facilities, which have seen some clusters, have managed cases because of masks. 

The new ruling by the commissioners does come with some confusion. The courts are operating under different sets of rules. Anyone entering the Shawnee County Courthouse won’t need a mask. Masks might not be required in some hallways or elevators but are required when someone enters a courtroom or any court-related offices.

More:Any business, church or person in Shawnee County can now 'opt out' of the mask mandate

Shawnee County counselor Jim Crowl said courtrooms are required by the Kansas Supreme Court to have masks.

Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla said it is important to wear masks because Europe is seeing another wave in cases.

“It should hopefully be clear, we are trying not to make it confusing,” he said. “We have had a lot of change lately and that is basically in regard to reaction to what the legislature is doing and the situation they are creating.”

Did the city of Topeka have its own mask mandate? 

The city doesn’t have its own city-wide mandate but will require masks in any city building.

City buildings, like City Hall and fire stations, may not require masks for much longer as city officials said Tuesday the mandates may be dropped by May 1, depending on case counts.

More:Shawnee County records three cases of more contagious U.K. variant of COVID-19

“I personally don’t feel like they are optional quite yet,” Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla said at a Tuesday news conference. 

De La Isla said Europe is having another wave of COVID-19 cases because the public became too relaxed about precautionary measures.

More:'Just a body': Forced overtime, toxic work environment among allegations from Frito-Lay workers

Did Thursday’s vote change the previous decision to make masks optional? 

The vote on Thursday didn’t change any previous votes by the county commissioners. 

Health orders and mask mandates in Shawnee County were separated into three different resolutions:

• A resolution mandating masks.

• A resolution mandating virus restrictions on county property.

• A resolution mandating health restrictions throughout the county.