Gov. Laura Kelly issued an executive order Thursday, which she had announced earlier in the week, requiring most Kansans to wear a mask in public areas, and in places where individuals cannot maintain six-foot social distancing.

The order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, July 3, and will remain in place until it is rescinded or the current statewide State of Disaster Emergency expires, whichever comes first.

“The last few months have presented many new challenges for Kansans, and all of us want to return to our normal lives and routines,” Kelly said in a press release. “Unfortunately, we have seen a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths across our state and our country. We must act.”

Earlier this week, Timothy Stebbins, Crawford County’s new public health officer who was appointed in June, said that regardless of a statewide order, people should be wearing masks in public.

“I highly encourage mask wear at all social gatherings anyway, whether that’s an executive order or not, just to help prevent spread of the disease through asymptomatic carriers and prevent self-contamination,” Stebbins said.

As of Wednesday, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment was reporting 263 coronavirus cases in Crawford County.

Stebbins said at Tuesday’s county commission meeting, however, that he had spoken with representatives of both Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg and Girard Medical Center and both healthcare facilities were not close to their capacity for COVID-19 patients.

“We’re nowhere near surge capacity at either place,” he said, “which is essentially the main thing that we’re looking at with respect to this virus.”

Stebbins said “the plan has always been to try to keep Girard clean if possible” and that as of Tuesday there were seven positive cases at Ascension Via Christi and five “persons under investigation.”

The total surge capacity at Ascension Via Christi could be as high as 102 patients, although “that would be a difficult stage,” he said.

Crawford County Commissioner Jeremy Johnson asked if there would be a point when the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized would signal that the county government should take additional steps to try to prevent the spread of the virus.

“There are action numbers for each stage of the surge plan” at Ascension Via Christi, Stebbins said. “And it is based on capacity what that number is. It changes somewhat daily depending on the other services that are going on that day. So it is a variable number, but again we haven’t approached it yet.”

Stebbins said he thinks the public is interested in doing what is necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and taking simple steps such as wearing facemasks in public will help to do that.

“It’s really a small price to pay,” said Commissioner Tom Moody.

“Viruses don’t stop at county lines,” Gov. Kelly said Thursday. “This order doesn’t change where you can go or what you can do. But wearing a mask is a simple and effective way to keep Kansans healthy and keep Kansas open for business.”

Kansans under five years old, those with medical conditions, and others specifically outlined in the executive order are exempt from the mask requirements.