Together, the Smith County public health department and the providers at Smith County Memorial Hospital will recommend to the Smith County Board of Health that the county should not enforce Gov. Kelly’s face mask mandate.
Local health officials remind residents that COVID-19 is not going away. Everyone should make it a priority to practice social distancing, use appropriate hand hygiene and cleanliness and stay home if sick. While officials do not require masks, they say that residents who feel more comfortable wearing masks should continue to use the protection.
Through early work to educate residents on the importance of social distancing and cleanliness, Smith County has seen a very low prevalence of COVID-19. A total of three cases, all recovered, have been recorded since the beginning of the pandemic.
Because there is no evidence of community spread and no current outbreaks, meaning more than one case associated with a specific gathering or location, county officials do not think it is appropriate to increase precautions. The health department and providers continue to discuss the local situation and have promised to adjust plans should the case count or the number of hospitalizations change.
“Our priority is to protect the residents of Smith County,” said Dr. Ferrill Conant. “However, we cannot say that masks will do more good than continued social distancing and attention to good hand hygiene. These are the two biggest known factors in decreasing spread, and we want everyone to remain diligent in these efforts.”
Officials also say that when residents of Smith County travel to other areas, they should be aware of what is appropriate in those locations.
“I think if a person was traveling to an area with a high or growing number of cases, it could be appropriate to wear a mask,” Conant said.
Laura Hageman, the county health director, agrees with Conant.
“We’ve been paying attention to the research and the information available, and this is what is appropriate for Smith County right now,” Hageman said. “The decision we’re making isn’t right for every county in Kansas, and we hope residents remember that when they travel.”
The team knows this is one of the many difficult decisions they have made throughout the pandemic.
“We don’t make this decision lightly and know that it will not be popular with everyone,” Hageman said. “Our team of medical professionals is prepared to deal with an increase in cases if that happens, but we hope that our residents continue to socially distance and practice good hand hygiene so that cases remain low.”
While the mandate will not be enforced in Smith County, residents may wear a mask if that makes them feel more comfortable in public spaces.
“There is nothing wrong with wearing masks, and those who want to take that extra precaution should be allowed to do so, but we want them to do so safely,” Hageman said. “Many people don’t understand that once they put on a mask, they shouldn’t touch it to adjust it or take it off and on repeatedly.”
Hageman notes that constant movement or removal of a face mask can leave the wearer more exposed by touching their face when they wouldn’t normally do so. To brush up on proper mask use, visit the county health department’s Facebook page for guidance.
SCMH providers appreciate the public’s help by calling before visiting the clinic or ER. Staff in both the clinic and hospital are calling patients before scheduled appointments to screen for COVID-19 symptoms and will continue the practice for the foreseeable future.
“If you are sick, we want you to come see us,” Conant said. “There is no reason to wait until an illness becomes critical to visit. We encourage anyone who isn’t feeling well to call before they come in to either the clinic or ER so we can protect our staff and patients in our waiting areas. Your phone call also prepares us for what to expect so we can expedite lab requests or other needs based on symptoms.”