Keep those masks on, Wichita.
The City Council on Tuesday extended the city’s mask mandate until after the Labor Day weekend as the fight continues against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The council vote was 4-3 to continue requiring masks for employees and patrons of most public-facing businesses and indoor gatherings until Sept. 8.
The council took action after a report from Fire Chief Tammy Snow, who said the numbers show that the positive test rate for coronavirus infection began declining almost as soon as the city passed the ordinance five weeks ago.
Mayor Brandon Whipple and council members Cindy Claycomb, Becky Tuttle and Brandon Johnson voted to extend the mandate, while council members James Clendenin, Jeff Blubaugh and Bryan Frye voted to end it.
The original extension proposal would have removed schools from the masking requirements.
But that was dropped between Friday’s release of the council agenda and Tuesday’s meeting after discussions with the county and the Wichita school district, officials said.
Tuttle said she had talked with school board President Sheril Logan and Logan asked that schools be kept in the ordinance for consistency between city, county and school district.
Even if schools had been exempted, there wouldn’t have been any immediate effect on USD 259.
The district has already delayed the start of school until Sept. 8. Also, the district has announced that school staff and students who opt for in-person instruction will be required to wear masks during all classroom instruction and in common areas until further notice.
The council initially passed the mask restriction in a rare special session on July 3 after Sedgwick County opted for a voluntary recommendation, without a mandate, going into the Fourth of July.
About a week later, Sedgwick County issued a similar mask mandate through its health officer, Dr. Garold Minns, that also closed bars and nightclubs and put a midnight curfew on restaurants that serve alcohol. That remains in effect until Aug. 21.
Violators of the city’s mask ordinance could be fined $25 for their first conviction, $50 for the second and $100 for third and subsequent convictions.
However, the Police Department has committed to enforcement by education and persuasion.
The department has not written a single citation for violating the mask ordinance since it started, said police spokesman Kevin Wheeler.
City Manager Robert Layton said while the police haven’t issued any citations, they have issued some advisory letters and further action could be taken against businesses that defy the ordinance after being warned.
Clendenin said he was worried about discrimination against people who have legitimate reasons for not wearing masks. He said he’s received complaints from people that they were turned away from businesses for refusing to mask up.
“If we’re going to track or educate businesses on . . . making masks mandatory, we also need to educate businesses on not discriminating against those that have either physical reasons why they cannot wear them or other hidden reasons . . . specifically those of a mental nature,” he said.