Gov. Laura Kelly, since the pandemic’s beginning, has always talked about the importance of following COVID-19 guidelines, from social distancing to wearing masks.
"It’s clear that until a vaccine is available and widely deployed, mask usage is one of our most important strategies for keeping Kansas schools and businesses open," she said at a news conference.
When Kelly had issued a mask mandate in the early days of the pandemic, state legislators pushed back by allowing counties to opt out of it. The overwhelming majority of the counties did so.
The mask debate has been political, with Republican lawmakers fiercely opposing any mandate. But in recent weeks before the election, Kelly grew bolder on pursuing a statewide mask requirement.
She even sought a meeting with legislative leaders on the idea of changing the ability to opt out. Instead, they settled on reaching out to local governments instead to ask them to voluntarily implement a mandate themselves.
Even then, Kelly still pushed on, even if local desires said otherwise.
"If we are unable to convince communities to voluntarily implement a mask mandate, I will move expeditiously to find another way to implement a statewide mask requirement," Kelly said.
But the election came, and Republicans grew stronger in the Legislature. Any chances of advancing any part of her agenda, including a statewide mask requirement, are greatly diminished.
The strategy now? Persuading people.
On Friday, the governor and legislative leaders set aside $1.5 million for a public service announcement campaign that would encourage Kansans to wear masks, among other things.
For some, it was a good compromise compared to when the governor was requesting a mandate.
"I think we realize that mandates don’t always work, but this educational effort will," said Rep. Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, in a meeting.
The campaign, spearheaded by the Kansas Hospital Association, would ideally start before Thanksgiving and last 10 weeks. It would include TV, radio and social media, said Cindy Samuelson, of the Kansas Hospital Association.
There could be more money spent, $2 million to $3 million total, if more private organizations contribute to the cause, and celebrities could be involved, said Ryckman.
The League of Kansas Municipalities, which represents all of Kansas’ cities, has also stuck to a similar position. When the state had reached out to the organization as part of asking cities to implement a mask mandate voluntarily, LKM said education was needed.
"Right now we're just trying to increase public awareness of it, and why it's important, just kind of the education aspect," said deputy director Trey Cocking.
"Mandates will follow, but you have to first have a critical mass of people agreeing that it's important," he said.
The league has been holding weekly calls with cities talking about the importance of masks, as well as giving cities campaign material to put out on websites and channels telling constituents why masks work.
There’s also the hope that as more and more Kansas communities bear the brunt of more and more COVID-19 cases, local officials and community members will change their minds.
"He said that a number of the [county] commissioners are starting to see the light and are really reconsidering," the governor had said of the lieutenant governor embarking on a "Mask Up" tour in hard-hit areas of Kansas.
The governor has also shared on Twitter multiple news articles illustrating the burden of the coronavirus on some counties, an implicit reminder of why masks are important.
Perhaps that hope is playing out. Amid record-breaking numbers in the past few weeks, quite a few cities and counties have put the mask mandate back on the table.
Garden City out in western Kansas implemented a mask mandate. Jefferson and Lyon counties voted in to require face coverings.
"I really appreciate the health department and their campaign to challenge people to wear their masks, keep their distance, wash their hands," Garden City Commissioner Deb Oyler said. "A mask is one piece of that, and being able to help with slowing that spread."
There, however, will still be strong resistance. Finney County turned down the idea of a mask mandate recently, and in places like Ford County, commissioners have made it a talking point, turning down a state grant in fear they would have to comply with mask wearing.
For Kelly, though, the news of mask mandates being implemented was welcoming.
"I want to commend Jefferson and Lyon County for mandating masks in their counties," she tweeted out on Thursday.