Riley County commissioners Monday again rejected a county-wide mask mandate, this time over the recommendation of the county health department.
Instead, commissioners added language “strongly recommending” that people wear masks and maintain physical distancing of 6 feet.
The recommendation sets the language for a revised local health order, which is in the works. Health officials, including Riley County Health Department Director Julie Gibbs, requested at Monday’s meeting that the commission mandate masks county-wide.
Gibbs said she can’t yet release the details of the coming health order.
Currently masks are required within Manhattan city limits but not required in the rural, outlying areas of the county.
Commissioners Ron Wells and John Ford supported strongly recommending mask-wearing but did not want a mandate.
Chairman Marvin Rodriguez said he favored the language of the current order, which only encourages or recommends mask-wearing in the county, without the word “strongly.”
However, Rodriguez, along with the other commissioners, ultimately approved Monday putting in the stronger language for mask-wearing in the next order.
Commissioners backed away from the proposed mask mandate because information they have received from health officials indicated that there is no community spread in rural areas in Riley County.
“Until I receive data that it’s a problem in unincorporated Riley County and small towns, I’m not going to go with a mandate, but I will go with a ‘strongly recommended,’” Wells said.
Officials have said community spread is occurring in Manhattan.
“We can respond quickly if there would be a problem appear in unincorporated Riley County, small towns,” Wells said.
Ford said he recently received data from officials that said six cases are tied to people outside of Manhattan, with four of those in Ogden. He did not mention where the other two cases are from.
“Looking at graphs and data from the last four months, it does seem apparent to me that the community spread, as Gibbs has mentioned, is within the city of Manhattan and that’s probably where our focus really, really needs to be,” Ford said.
Rodriguez, like Wells, said the county can change course if something happens in the rural part of the county.
“If something does happen, then we can always make a change,” he said. “But right now there is very little stuff going on. Two deaths that happened in Leonardville were in the nursing home and they took care of that already, so that’s been solved.”
Gibbs told The Mercury after the discussion that she understood the commissioners’ decision.
“(I) am glad we made progress by adding in ‘strongly’ to recommend masks in the county,” Gibbs told The Mercury. “I’m also hopeful that if the city does not extend their ordinance, the county will issue a mandate at that time.”
The city of Manhattan’s mask ordinance lasts through Labor Day weekend.
In addition, county officials will begin analyzing coronavirus funding requests from cities, schools, universities and colleges this week; entities had to submit requests to the county by last Friday.
The commission will look at these requests soon, officials said.
Riley County received almost $15 million in federal government funding last week.
The money is intended to help the county during the coronavirus pandemic. Riley County will distribute some of this money to cities, schools and other entities.
The money comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act.
The funding must be used for coronavirus-related expenses and any unspent money will be returned to the government.
The state of Kansas collected $1.25 billion from the federal government to distribute to Kansas counties.
Officials said Monday that neither Ogden nor Randolph submitted any assessments to the county.
“They have not participated in any of our meetings or responded to any of my emails,” said Tami Robison, budget and finance officer.
Leonardville sent in its assessment, but did not request any funding, as there were all zeros in the funding line requests, officials said.
Additionally, commissioners canceled their employee training day Oct. 12, which is Columbus Day, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Officials said this is a paid day for employees, so all county offices will be open that day, but the District Court office will remain closed.