As new COVID-19 circumstances tick up and vaccinations sluggish, Platte County relaxes masks guidelines

An at-times contentious meeting of the Platte County Health Department Board of Trustees ended with a new emergency health order that does away with many requirements dealing with mask wearing and social distancing.

The new Platte County order is mostly consistent with what Kansas City approved earlier this week; about half of Platte County’s population lives in Kansas City.

No masks are required outdoors. Masks, which are largely credited with helping slow the transmission of COVID-19, are required indoors in settings where social distancing of six feet apart cannot be maintained.

“In restaurants, you are required to wear a mask unless you are actively eating or drinking,” said Dan Luebbert, deputy director of the Platte County Health Department.

Capacity limits on bars and restaurants no longer apply.

Jeffrey Kingsley, a trustee of the Platte County Health Department, pushed his colleagues to follow Johnson County’s lead, which earlier on Thursday voted to do away with all mandates and issue only recommendations.

“Johnson County is going to have an economic advantage over everyone and money talks,” Kingsley said.

No one else supported Kingsley’s position.

“Johnson County may be an island; I don’t anticipate other jurisdictions following their lead on this,” Luebbert said. “I think it’s a mistake, frankly.”

Platte County’s new order contains a strong recommendation that large crowds be avoided, but does not require it.

Thursday’s order comes as the rate of Platte County residents who have at least initiated vaccination reached 40%. But there were signs that attendance at vaccination events in Platte County was dropping off sharply.

Infections are fewer than they were at the beginning of the year but have shown modest signs of increasing once again since April 1.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” Luebbert said.

Trustees bickered at length about whether children should be exempt from wearing masks and at what age. The order said children age 5 or below are exempt from wearing masks.

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Kingsley, who was appointed to the board of trustees in January and was elected to a full term in April, asked what data supports exempting children at age 5 or below. He suggested at one point exempting anyone under the age of 18.

“You’re making a mountain out of a molehill on this age thing,” said Cathy Hill, a Platte County Health Department trustee.

By the end, the trustees voted unanimously to approve the new health order.

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