Mo. city removes mask exemption for first responders

Kansas City's new guidance comes after an outbreak at the police department and applies to all essential workers


Luke Nozicka
The Kansas City Star

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City police officers, first responders and other essential workers will be required to wear face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as part of new public health guidance.

Mayor Quinton Lucas announced Monday the city would return to some of its strictest COVID-19 guidance since this spring as infections threaten to overwhelm hospitals. The new order, Lucas said on the steps of City Hall, eliminates a past exemption of mask wearing for police officers and firefighters.

Kansas City, Mo., has removed its mask exemption for first responders and other essential workers. The city's police department recently saw an outbreak of the virus that left 18 officers out sick and 54 in quarantine.
Kansas City, Mo., has removed its mask exemption for first responders and other essential workers. The city's police department recently saw an outbreak of the virus that left 18 officers out sick and 54 in quarantine. (Photo/Kansas City Missouri Police Department)

Previous emergency orders exempted first responders from having to wear masks, Lucas said, because Kansas City's rule-making started this spring with a virtual shutdown of all nonessential activities. He called it concerning that as his office modified the order over time, it didn't include essential workers in the mask rule.

"Up until this order will be in effect, essential workers of any type are exempt from the mask requirement, including, for example, journalists," Lucas said as he announced new restrictions. "I don't think we necessarily meant for that to be the case."

He said the change was "for the better."

Sgt. Jake Becchina, a police spokesman, said the department will comply with COVID-19 guidelines from the city, county, state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as it has since the pandemic began.

"Protecting our community is at the forefront of everything we do," he said.

Earlier Monday, the department on Twitter asked residents calling 911 to tell dispatchers if they have COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms so "first responders can be prepared."

[READ: Here’s what cops have to say about face mask use, policy and effectiveness]

During the Board of Police Commissioners meeting last week, Police Chief Rick Smith said infections in the department were drastically rising in what he called a "large outbreak" that began the week prior.

The outbreak left 18 officers recovering and put another 54 in quarantine. They were among more than 130 officers who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The department has more than 1,300 sworn officers.

Police officers in some other parts of the Kansas City metro area were already required to wear masks while on duty.

Nancy Chartrand, a spokeswoman for the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department, said the only time officers are not mandated to wear masks is when they are in their own office spaces or in their vehicles by themselves.

Twenty of their about 320 sworn officers have been infected since March 17, Chartrand said.

Officer John Lacy, with the Overland Park Police Department, said officers are required to wear masks when they have contact with citizens, including during traffic stops, and when they are inside the station. They can be disciplined for not wearing masks, he added.

"We've been wearing our masks like there's no tomorrow," Lacy said.

As of Monday afternoon, the virus has infected 67,632 residents and killed 886 people to date across the metro.

The Star's Allison Kite contributed to this report.

(c)2020 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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