Republican Lawmakers in Kansas Repeal Mask Mandate

Kansas lawmakers voted Thursday along party lines to repeal the state’s mask mandate despite a bid by Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly’s attempts to extend it, becoming the latest Republican-led state to refuse to extend or reimpose requirements to wear facial coverings.

After the Kansas state legislature recently passed a law permitting the Legislative Coordinating Council—a legislative standing committee—to revoke executive orders, the Council decided in a 5-2 party-line vote to overturn the mask mandate immediately after Kelly took executive action (pdf) extending facial covering protocols.

“There is no worrying spike today, and no circumstances which justify the continued impositions … of the governor’s overreaching statewide mask mandate,” said state House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, a Republican, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

Democrats opposed a rollback, arguing that it’s too soon given the emergence of CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus mutations and that the outbreak remains a threat.

“It would be a big mistake to go backwards right now,” said state House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Democrat, according to the report. “Many states that have reduced some of their restrictions are seeing a COVID tick back upward. We don’t want to do that.”

New daily cases of COVID-19 in Kansas are on a downtrend, according to data from the state health department, falling from 226 on March 22 to 85 on April 1.

Kelly, in a statement after the Council’s vote, said she was “disappointed that Republican leaders are more motivated by political publicity stunts than working together to protect Kansans and our economy.”

“I know that all of us are ready to get back to normal, but wearing a face-covering will help protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors from the new COVID-19 strains that are wreaking havoc in other states,” she added.

Laura Kelly
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly speaks during a press conference at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas on March 25, 2018. (John Hanna/AP Photo)

Both the Kansas state House and Senate are GOP-controlled, while the governorship is Democrat-led.

With the Council’s decision, Kansas joins 18 other states that either revoked or never imposed mask mandates, with governors in Wyoming, Mississippi, Texas, Alaska, and Montana all announcing this week they would not reimpose mask mandates despite emotional pleas from the White House and public health officials not to let up on mitigation measures.

Three weeks after Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the mask mandate in Texas, the state hit a record low for COVID-19 cases.

“Today the 7-day COVID positivity rate dropped to a new recorded low: 4.95 percent,” Abbott announced on March 28, adding that hospitalizations also dropped to a 6-month low.

At a White House health briefing earlier this week, both President Joe Biden and the head of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, voiced dire warnings that too many Americans were easing COVID-19 protocols.

Walensky said she had a feeling of “impending doom” at the rising cases of COVID-19, while Biden said if that continued, the United States could see a “fourth surge.”

rochelle walensky
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, now the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), removes her mask to speak as then President-elect Joe Biden announces nominees and appointees to serve on his health and CCP virus response teams during a news conference at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Del., on Dec. 8, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

To fight against COVID-19 “fatigue,” persuade people not to ease up on mitigation measures, and overcome vaccine hesitancy, the Biden administration has teamed up with influencers—including community, religious, and celebrity partners—to keep spreading the word.

Besides urging Americans to get a COVID-19 shot, the coalition of “trusted influencers”—which includes athletes, doctors, business people, and faith-based community leaders—will continue to promote the message that people shouldn’t let up with measures such as social distancing and mask-wearing.

Biden on Monday pleaded for local authorities to maintain mask mandates.

“I’m reiterating my call for every governor, mayor, and local leader to maintain and reinstate the mask mandate,” Biden said. “Please, this is not politics. Reinstate the mandate if you let it down. And business should require masks as well.”

He also urged Americans to get the vaccine.

The United States, which leads the world in COVID-19 vaccinations, recently surpassed 100 million administered doses, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announcing on April 1 a record 3.38 million shots in a single day.

Public Affairs