By BECKY KISER
During a 40-minute special meeting early Monday morning, Ellis County commissioners took no action on a proposed resolution to opt out of Gov. Laura Kelly's new executive order for a statewide face mask mandate beginning Wednesday.
Although Commission Chairman Butch Schlyer opened his remarks by saying "I am going to support the governor's mandate," there was ultimately no motion to adopt the local resolution, which would have opted out Ellis County from the mandate.
At the end of the meeting, County Counselor Bill Jeter told commissioners the state mandate will go into effect in Ellis County at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
"You can opt out at 12:02 a.m. if you choose, or you can opt back in after anytime you want to," Jeter explained.
"When we look at the metrics Jason [Kennedy, Ellis County Health Director] has given to us, when we look at the number of cases, the only prudent thing we can do is support the government's mandate," Schlyer said.
Friday's update from Kennedy saw a jump of 148 COVID-19 cases since Wednesday — the the largest increase between reports, which are issued Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
But Schlyer remains apprehensive about the mandate.
"The concern I have is that this mandate is not going to produce the desired effect, and the governor might come along with other orders to be more restrictive," Schlyer continued. "If that were to occur — it's just speculation on my part — at that point in time, I may draw a line in the sand."
Although the longtime former Ellis County Health Administrator remains somewhat skeptical about their efficacy, Schlyer said "I've found it causes little inconvenience to wear a mask."
Hays city commissioners adopted a face covering ordinance July 23.
Dean Haselhorst told Schlyer "I support you on the governor's mask mandate. You know, no action."
All three commissioners commended Kennedy as the Ellis County Health Officer and his decisions regarding coronavirus cases in the county.
"I've supported him 100 percent from day one," Haselhorst said.
"I believe everything he's said all along. The [countywide] face mask mandate didn't need to be issued early on. Now it does."
Commissioner Dustin Roths preferred to opt out of the state mandate, which counties are allowed to do by law.
"I was ready to opt out of the governor's mandate. I did have the discussion with Jason and his desire to move forward with the governor's mandate," Roths said.
He noted the Hays ordinance covers 80 percent of the Ellis County population and most residents and visitors are complying.
"People are wearing masks on their own and what's happened to our caseload?"
Roths suggested mayors in the remaining 20 percent of the outlying area — Victoria, Ellis and Schoenchen — could impose mask mandates as Hays has done, without needing the county to be involved.
Roths considers mask mandates a political issue.
"I'm not real likely to tell people what they should do with their own private health care," he said. "We're American citizens and the idea that the government needs to come in and be our parents, nanny us, force us to do things, it's not my mentality. I will always aim towards the side of more freedom and more responsibility from our citizens."
Roths, owner of Diamond R Jewelry in downtown Hays, added that he would vote to opt out of any business shutdown order that might come down from the governor.
Roths eventually concluded "I'm fine with your guys's decision on no action today."
Jeter told the commission a violation of the state face mask ordinance is a Class C misdemeanor, the lowest class of misdemeanor.
"It's really probably complaint-driven only," Jeter said. "I don't think you're going to find law enforcement officers in this community will be out actively trying to find people not wearing masks in public."