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An Open Letter to County Commissioners About COVID Mandates


Kansas counties should not consider mandatory non-pharmaceutical intervention: mask mandates, curfews, or lockdowns. There are more productive ways to fight the effects of COVID-19 than mandates. My name is Michael Austin, Director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Government at the Kansas Policy Institute. We help ensure Kansans are informed about incoming challenges so they can take the proper effective action. Also, at the start, today’s discussion is not about the efficacy of masks themselves. The discussion is about mandates.

Going back to February 2020, COVID follows a regional or seasonal path throughout the country. At first, COVID struck port cities, like New Orleans and New York City, and Boston. There were other localized outbreaks in the country, but they were primarily in prisons and meatpacking plants. By July, the epidemic moved and spread across the South, from California to the Carolinas. As of November 14th, COVID has inundated the Plains states. Regardless of mandates or lockdowns, the takeaway is that the COVID” spikes” follow the same patterns with the same peaks as it moves through the country. Indeed, as it spreads around the world.

A second reason to express caution against mandates is that surveys show free choice has already achieved what mandates set to coerce. Again, the question is not about the efficacy of masks. It is about government-imposed mandates. In June and July, ABC News/Ipsos and HuffPost polls revealed that over 85% of Americans wore face masks. In Kansas, the New York Times estimates 95% of Kansans in mandated counties wear a mask at some frequency and over 90% of Kansans in no-mandate counties. A Fort Hays State Docking survey found “93.5% of their respondents wore a mask or face covering in stores or other businesses all or most of the time in the past month.” With Kansans already masking, a lack of a mandate isn’t the cause of rising cases. A little courtesy to Kansans can go a long way. Moreover, there are more effective ways to save Kansans’ lives.

Kansans, aged 18 to 64 years, are driving COVID case growth. However, they are not the ones driving hospitalization and fatality rates. Kansans over 65 years of age account for 83% of deaths with or from COVID. The largest share of fatalities belongs to the “over 85 years of age” group. Kansas counties – and the state – must develop targeted approaches that protect Kansans in our nursing homes and long-term care facilities (LTC). Here are a few ideas.

  1. Ensure LTC’s have adequate testing and PPE to find and isolate infectious staff and residents.
  2. Request Governor Kelly to open the state COVID testing lab on the weekends.
  3. For LTCs that develop a COVID cluster, provide help with deep cleaning & infection control training.
  4. Encourage facilities to strengthen COVID protocols with best practices.

The lack of these solutions contributed to the outbreak and national attention of Norton County, Kansas. COVID public health should prevent the loss of life while not imposing tremendous and costly damage to people and the economies. The Attorney General Derek Schmidt has written extensively on mandates’ enforceability, and far too often counties that impose a mandate ends up setting more restrictions. Please consider this letter in your deliberation on whether to impose a mandate or not. There’s a path to achieve mitigate the spread of COVID while protecting freedoms.

The Kansas Policy Institute is presenting this data and analysis to county commissioners across the state. Below is an example of C.E.O.’s Dave Trabert’s presentation to Miami County.  If you would like further COVID data and analysis for your county, please send an email to [email protected]

Miami county comm handout