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November 24th, 2020
L&T Opinions Page

earl watt mugL&T Publisher Earl Watt


Monday, the Seward County Commission considered a mask mandate and ultimately decided not to make the wearing of masks a requirement by a 3-2 vote.

The divide shows how close the community is split on the issue. About half of the community believes there should be a mask mandate. The other half believes there should not be.

The Commission did pass a crowd size limit of less than 100, and that, too, has been met with about half of the people satisfied and half of the people disappointed.

Much like other splits, emotions run high on both sides.

On social media and even at the commission meeting, the heightened rhetoric was on full display, and it does little to convince anyone to change their positions.

Some of that language included whether or not widows or widowers believe there should be a mask mandate.

At the same time, family members who have been unable to visit relatives and have lost a loved one to old age could also make an emotional plea to the damage done by quarantines.

To believe no one would become a casualty of a pandemic is not realistic. Likewise, to completely ignore any precautions is also unrealistic.

Both sides can share reasons why their side has an emotional appeal, so it would be better to avoid making those arguments that will only further divide the community.

Other members of the audience decided to interrupt the public meeting to yell out that they will remember how the commission voted on this issue.

Again, both sides could make that case and try to villainize those who didn’t vote the way they believed the vote should have gone.

It is their right to vote however they choose and base it on whatever reason they choose, but it is unacceptable to turn public meetings into political rants.

This has happened at city meetings as well, and it is time to bring public outbursts at meetings to a halt. Public comments are allowed, but they are done in an orderly fashion and when the agenda allows. Both city and county meetings allow comments from citizens on their agendas, and like the mask mandate, the commissions will sometimes open the podium for those who would like to provide input on an agenda item.

But that privilege does not make the meeting an open forum for the rest of the discussion.

We have had excessive outbursts in 2020, and they need to be discouraged. That is not how local government operates, and we have to maintain a sense of decorum even when we disagree.

The decision has been made and while masks aren’t mandated, that should not be interpreted to mean masks should not be worn. It simply means we should do it voluntarily. Many who opposed the mandate didn’t oppose wearing masks, they simply opposed the government mandating it.

What we should see is a rise in voluntary compliance. We should see more people in public wearing masks because they have the ability to govern themselves and be responsible.

We should see people practicing social distancing.

We should also see a heightened effort from our elected officials to promote the benefits of wearing masks and socially distancing. We should see a more public effort to educate on issues like keeping hands clean and avoiding large gatherings.

Before mandates are considered, we should see a stronger effort to keep this in front of the public and to promote a message of the benefits of the behavior we would like to see.

For example, during holidays, the Kansas Highway Patrol advocates for driver safety with programs like the “Click-it or Ticket” or the “You Drink, You Drive, You Lose” campaigns.

Seward County could easily support a campaign to advocate for the use of masks. They can also sponsor contests for the most creative mask or a number of other ways to encourage the use of masks.

They can also advocate for social distancing and hand sanitizing.

All of these don’t require a mandate but can result in increased use of masks and a decrease in the spread of the coronavirus.

For those who still believe a mandate is the solution, it is fine to continue the dialogue, but it should be done without the accusation that those who disagree simply don’t care. 

Likewise, those who disagree with the mandate shouldn’t believe that this was a repudiation of wearing masks. This was simply a difference for many of when government goes too far and when individual rights are curtailed.

Businesses can require a mask, or they can take the risk of not requiring them. But nothing prevents you from wearing a mask. Nothing was passed to discourage the use of masks in public places.

It is simply voluntary, and we should all voluntarily wear masks more often.

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