Wichita’s mask ordinance will be in effect for almost another month.
City Council members voted Tuesday to extend the ordinance requiring masks in public spaces until Sept. 8. It was supposed to expire Tuesday; the council also declared an emergency in order to pass the extension on first reading and prevent any gaps in the policy.
The Wichita Fire Department is helping lead the city's COVID-19 response. Fire Chief Tammy Snow said the ordinance first approved on July 3 came when positive cases of COVID-19 were on the rise. The past month has seen a steady decrease in new cases across Sedgwick County.
"There’s a lag time to see the effectiveness of the implementation of preventative measures, about 2 to 3 weeks," she told council members, "and we’re right dead-on. You can now see the decline."
The rolling 14-day average of positive tests peaked on July 23 at 14%, according to Sedgwick County’s COVID-19 data center. It’s now hovering around 10.4%. Forty-five new confirmed cases were reported on Tuesday.
The extension passed 4 to 3. The council members who voted against the original order — Jeff Blubaugh, Bryan Frye and James Clendenin — also voted against its extension.
"I’m just curious, if we go another 30 days," asked Blubaugh, "won’t we just keep going 30 days, 30 days until there’s a vaccine?
"Will the recommendation ever be not to have the mask mandatory?"
The ordinance excludes areas in and around public and private schools, leaving mask regulations up to individual schools. It also includes several exemptions for individuals with certain health issues that make wearing a mask difficult.
Clendenin says he’s aware of "several places" that aren’t recognizing the exemptions.
"There are people, many people, not just a handful of people, that are being turned away (from businesses) because they have medical issues," he said. "These are very discriminatory practices."
Unlike Sedgwick County’s own public health order, which expires Aug. 21, the city’s mask ordinance outlines enforcement: a possible $25 fine for first-time offenses, and as much as a $100 penalty for a third offense.
City Manager Robert Layton says the city has sent out some advisory letters to businesses, but hasn’t written any tickets for mask violations.
Harvey County this week voted to extend its mask order to Sept. 15.