Kansas City mayor: There would be a challenge to reinstating mask mandates as COVID surges

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Mayor Quinton Lucas on Sunday said amid an ongoing surge in coronavirus cases, that reinstating a citywide mask mandate would be a challenge.

In an interview on CBS’s “Face The Nation” Lucas was asked by host Margaret Brennan to explain what’s holding him back from putting another mask mandate in place. The most recent citywide mandate ended in November.

Lucas pointed, in large part, to Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who recently filed numerous lawsuits against jurisdictions that re-instated the mandate, including Jackson County.

Schmitt, a Republican running for a U.S. Senate seat, previously called mask mandates “ridiculous” and an “intrusion.”

Now, instead of focusing his rhetoric on masks, Lucas said that City Hall is trying to focus more on getting people vaccinated.

More than 292,500 coronavirus cases have been identified across the metro since the pandemic began in early 2020. As of Sunday, at least 3,555 people had died.

The vast majority of those infected with the coronavirus who require hospitalization or admission into the ICUs have not been fully vaccinated. That holds true with the delta and omicron variants of the virus, which are currently spreading quickly throughout the U.S.

“We’re facing challenges because there is a substantial amount of misinformation out in the public about if vaccination is important, if it’s good, if it’s free, what it does to you,” Lucas said on CBS. “So, we’re really fighting, I think, a battle on two different fronts. One is from my political right and those that are trying to say that this just isn’t that big of a deal, and then always trying to fight the information side to make sure that we get people vaccinated and safe.”

As of Friday, the seven-day average of new cases in the Kansas City metro was about 3,649 per day. The average death toll over the last seven days is around 13.6 deaths per day. On Jan. 4, the seven-day average of new cases across the Kansas City metro hit an all time high, with 14,839 new COVID-19 infections reported in the previous week.

“Really since the Christmas season we have seen incredible challenges in our health care network, even getting employees that are working in our EMS services, fire department and in public safety,” Lucas said Sunday. “It is a substantial concern.”

Lucas’ interview came just days after some Kansas City-area districts announced they were on the brink of closing schools as they struggle to find enough substitutes to fill in for hundreds of teachers absent due to COVID-19.

The week prior, Lucas introduced and City Hall passed a mask requirement for all Kansas City schools “through a great level of controversy,” he recounted Sunday.

The new mask ordinance, as Lucas previously described it, takes a “very narrowly-tailored approach.” He said this was in part to better withstand a potential lawsuit from Schmitt.

“I think that his lawsuits are counter-productive, anti-public health and fundamentally undermine everyone who is working hard to keep young people, old people, everyone in Missouri safe,” Lucas said at the time.

He also said prior to the CBS interview that part of his motivation not to enlist a new mandate stemmed from challenges to enforcing the mandate.

“This is not to say that we will never do one in the future, it’s not to cast dispersion on anyone else’s, but we’ve found ourselves spending a lot of time enforcing and chasing after a few bad actors,” Lucas said ahead of the first City Council meeting of the year.

Asked then if there was an exact case count or threshold that would prompt him to propose reinstating the citywide mask mandate, Lucas said no. But if he continues to see dramatic increases in hospitalizations or a significant increase in death rates, then Lucas said he may consider it again.

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