PITTSBURG, Kan. — With Gov. Laura Kelly’s new executive order taking effect Friday and requiring residents statewide to wear masks — except in counties that have opted out by issuing their own less restrictive rules — most local residents and visitors to downtown Pittsburg seemed willing to comply, at least if asked to do so by businesses they were visiting.
"I don’t think it’s a bad thing, I mean it’s public safety, it's what we have to do, you know, to protect ourselves and each other," said Debra Radell who lives in Pittsburg and works at Miller's Professional Imaging, where she said she has been required to wear a mask since early April.
"So to me, going into another place of business and wearing a mask is just common courtesy," she said. "I don’t mind. It’s a small inconvenience but I’m willing to do that to keep myself and other people safe."
Ali Vanzant, a Pittsburg State University student who works at Stone’s Corner Pharmacy across the state line in Missouri, similarly said she thinks complying with the order and wearing a facemask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is important.
"Not so much outside but I think indoors it’s important," she said. "Even if you don’t agree with it, there’s other people that are at high risk and it’s important to keep them safe and keep them protected."
Vanzant said she could understand, though, why some people would be upset that the order was taking effect right before Independence Day.
"I think it is kind of a crappy timing I guess you could say," she said, "but a good thing about the Fourth of July is a lot of people are outside, so it’s a lot easier to distance when you’re outside versus being inside somewhere."
Steve Hawn, who lives in Arma and works at Lakeside Elementary School in Pittsburg, said he is not happy about having to wear a mask, but will comply with the order anyway.
"You’ve got to be on the side of caution," he said. "She’s trying, our governor’s trying I think to be cautious and try to keep people safe. That’s what it’s all about."
Hawn added, however, that he thinks the order will be difficult to enforce.
"People have to want to do it I think before it’s going to be effective," he said.
Matt Williams, a barista at Root Coffeehouse & Creperie in Pittsburg who also lives in town, however, said getting customers to comply has not been a major issue.
"Honestly everyone’s been pretty accepting and they’ve been really nice about it," he said, adding that the coffee shop is offering curbside delivery for people who don’t want to wear a mask inside.
"Everyone’s always going to have their opinion on the matter," Williams said. "Some people will choose to do what they want, but by and large, everyone around the community, not just even here, everyone around the community has been pretty active in participating in wearing masks and doing their part."
Some, though, are less enthusiastic about the idea of wearing a facemask everywhere they go in public.
"I don’t like it myself," said Gary Mulnix, a retired truck driver who lives in Weir but was visiting The Pitt restaurant and bar in downtown Pittsburg on Friday.
"I know it’s real and everything," Mulnix said of the coronavirus.
"I just think it’s overblown," he said. "Just kind of fake news."
Mulnix said he also doubts that businesses or local governments will be able to enforce the order very effectively.
"They could probably say that they have to but I think they’re not going to do it," he said.
Even Radell, who said she supports the mask requirement, thinks using the main enforcement power available to the county — lawsuits, as Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has recently announced that violations of the governor’s emergency orders will not be criminally prosecuted as misdemeanors — would be "extreme," she said.
"We as citizens just have to be accountable to ourselves and to each other," Radell said.
"I want my kids to be able to go back to school this fall, I want to resume activity as normal as possible, I want to keep working. I mean, you know, I want my life to continue, so I’ll do this little thing if that’s what it takes. If it takes wearing a mask, I’ll do it, and I think everyone else should feel the same way. Not everyone will, so it’s a choice."