Residents will not be required to wear face masks in public during the coronavirus outbreak after Manhattan city commissioners Tuesday rejected a proposed face covering ordinance and resolution.
Instead, Mayor Usha Reddi brought up the idea of installing hand washing and/or hand sanitizer stations throughout the city to continue to promote good hand hygiene, a practice health officials say is instrumental in stopping the spread of the coronavirus. Officials also talked about distributing individual packets of hand sanitizer.
“I think that’s a fabulous idea,” Reddi said.
City manager Ron Fehr said the city can do this, potentially partnering with city businesses or distilleries to make hand sanitizer. He said the city also could create a marketing campaign.
The commission discussed implementing educational tools and measures to the public to encourage things like hand washing.
Commissioner Aaron Estabrook suggested using public figures to help spread public education and awareness, alluding to former K-State football coach Bill Snyder.
“There are clearly people that come to mind who aren’t as polarizing as any of us in this community,” Estabrook said. “People who have their name on stadiums and on highways that could potentially market to a certain demographic that is very interested in coming to football games. So I feel like we should go forward with that.”
The majority of the commission disliked the idea of a law requiring face masks. Reddi previously advocated for requiring face masks by local law to slow the spread of the virus.
Other than an ordinance, the city could have decided to go with a resolution encouraging the wearing of face masks in public, but the majority of the commission, including Reddi, did not express interest.
Commissioner Linda Morse said she thinks the virus will return in the fall or winter. She said she was okay with initiating a resolution.
“I think a resolution is as innocent as it can be,” she said.
Entities such as Kansas State University and the Manhattan Area Chamber of Commerce expressed support for a resolution, but did not prefer a law requiring it.
Commissioner Wynn Butler expressed his disapproval of an ordinance, saying residents would feel it takes away their personal liberties. He also said he thinks implementing a law goes against the authority of Riley County’s emergency operations center (EOC).
“The EOC is put in charge, and there’s an incident commander, who is health department director (Julie Gibbs), who is in control,” he said. “And our job as a commission is to support them. Any resolution or ordinance goes against support of the EOC. You have to have unity of command. That’s a principle of war, you know, being an old soldier.”
The EOC has not mandated face coverings in the city, but has encouraged the use of masks. The EOC said in a May 8 statement that it does not support any mandate or law requiring face masks.
Commissioner Mark Hatesohl agreed with Butler, saying he thinks a face covering law would be overkill.
“So adding more, just seems to be punitive at this point. What’s been working has helped,” he said.
He said he wanted the city to instead focus on possibly getting the pools open for the season and getting basketball goals plus volleyball and tennis nets back up.
“That’s the thing that I think we should be spending our time on,” Hatesohl said.
Reddi said she feels face masks are still important, and suggested creating K-State masks or “I Love MHK” masks.
“I still do think face coverings have a purpose,” she said.