By BECKY KISER
The ordinance requiring face masks to be worn in Hays due to the coronavirus pandemic is on track to end Wednesday, if positive COVID cases in Ellis County continue their decline.
City commissioners approved the ordinance for face coverings which went into effect July 27.
During a Oct. 2 special meeting, commissioners voted to extend the ordinance until the seven-day average of new cases of COVID-19 per day in Ellis County is five or fewer for 14 consecutive days as reported by the Ellis County Health Department, or until Gov. Laura Kelly's statewide COVID State of Disaster Emergency declaration lapses, is revoked or rescinded, whichever occurs first.
The seven-day average count hit 5 on Feb. 24 and has been below five since then, through Monday.
The Ellis County Health Department on Monday reported the average number of new coronavirus cases per day in the last seven days remained flat from Friday at two.
"When the numbers get released Wednesday, if that day the seven-day average is below five, then the ordinance automatically expires," explains Toby Dougherty, Hays city manager, "and so the city's mask mandate expires."
Dougherty says his office already has a press release "ready to go that afternoon with the high likelihood this is going to happen."
The reports are issued by Ellis County Health Services Director Jason Kennedy each Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the early afternoon.
"As of last Friday when it appeared we could be trending toward a Wednesday (March 10) removal of the mask requirement, I did reach out to Jason Kennedy personally and confirmed we were on the right track.
"He did confirm that and we have that communication from him on the numbers."
Although the city's mask mandate would end, the governor's mask ordinance is still in place through the end of the month — March 31.
By not specifically opting out of Kelly's declaration, Ellis County commissioners allowed the statewide mandate to go into effect Nov. 25.
City of Hays offices will continue to require the public to wear masks as long as the governor's order is in effect, according to Dougherty.
Businesses and other entities open to the public can still require customers to wear face coverings in order to enter their premises.
Dougherty likens it to the signs sometime seen that declare "No shirt. No shoes. No service."
"They have the right to say you need to come in here wearing a mask.
"Even if the governor's mask order goes away, there could be corporate or even businesses at the local level that will require masks for entry to the businesses. That's their right."
If the metrics set out by the city commission are met Wednesday, commissioners will not have to meet to end the mandate. The ordinance will automatically expire.
If positive COVID cases in Ellis County were to begin trending upward, the ordinance doesn't automatically become effective again, Dougherty noted.
"City commissioners would have to convene and adopt another ordinance if they wanted to place a mask requirement on people in the city limits," he said.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Kansas increased by 752 to a total of 295,861, the state health department reported Friday afternoon.
Gov. Kelly proclaimed March 7 — the one-year anniversary of the first recorded case of COVID-19 in Kansas — as COVID Memorial Day to honor those who have died due to the coronavirus.