Countywide mask mandate to last indefinitely

(Illustration by Abigail Compton | Collegian Media Group)

On Monday, the Riley County Health Department released a new local health order. The majority of the order is the same as Local Health Order No. 18, except the new mandate requires facial coverings in all public spaces in county limits.

“We are seeing a lot of community spread in Riley County, and it was clear that a county-wide mask mandate was needed,” local health officer Julie Gibbs said in a press release.

According to a press release from the health department, public spaces are “any indoor or outdoor space or area that is open to the public.”

The countywide mask mandate, which takes effect at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday and lasts indefinitely, falls in line with an executive order from Gov. Laura Kelly that requires statewide masking as a means to slow the spread of the pandemic. Counties had the option to institute their own mask orders, but those that didn’t would automatically be opted into the standard, statewide order.

This action was supported by Kansas State President Richard Myers in a letter to the community.

“Now is the time to put political differences aside and do what is right for the health and safety of everyone in our communities while keeping businesses open to help restore our economy,” Myers wrote in K-State Today. “Now is the time to be prudent and require face coverings.”

Myers urged people to think about the implications prolonged and uninhibited spread will have for the long term well-being of the community.

“If we care about our fellow citizens and want to get our economy moving again, we need to put this pandemic behind us,” Myers wrote. “As health experts have told us since the onset of the pandemic, there are three simple things we can all do to curb the spread of the virus while we wait for the vaccine: wear face coverings, wash your hands, and maintain social distancing.”

Local COVID-19 spread data is not available for this week yet, but the most recent report from the county health department had more than 450 active cases and six hospitalizations at Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Manhattan.

The mask mandate does not have any punitive power attached to it, but also does not supercede the city ordinance that requires mask wearing in Manhattan that does have penalties attached.

My name is Kaylie McLaughlin and I'm the ex-managing editor and audience engagement manager of the Collegian. Previously, I've been the editor-in-chief and the news editor. In the past, I have also contributed to the Royal Purple Yearbook and KKSU-TV. Off-campus, you can find my bylines in the Wichita Eagle, the Shawnee Mission Post and KSNT News. I grew up just outside of Kansas City in Shawnee, Kansas. I’m a senior in digital journalism with a minor in French and a secondary focus in international and area studies. As a third-generation K-Stater, I bleed purple and my goal is to serve the Wildcat community with accurate coverage.