An annotated timeline of the battle over mandatory masks

Mask Wars Portrait

Illustration by Jack Raybuck

March 24

The coronavirus pandemic picks up steam in the United States. After sports leagues and event organizers voluntarily cancel events, the first local stay-at-home orders are issued by a coalition that includes nearly every local government.

March 29

The CDC says masks don’t help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus and urges the public to stop hoarding them. “If you are NOT sick: You do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a face-mask),” the CDC said. “Facemasks may be in short supply and they should be saved for caregivers.”

April 3

The CDC changes course and urges the public to wear cloth masks but still avoid hoarding surgical masks.

April 20

In late April, protests erupt around the country by small groups of people upset about stay-at-home orders. Many of the protesters do not wear masks. In KCMO, anti-government protesters take to the Plaza to protest extending stay-at-home orders.

May 3

Cities in Missouri and Kansas begin phased reopenings.

May 19

As businesses begin to open, cities debate mask mandates. Prairie Village was one of the first municipalities in the area to explore such an order. The city council, which represents over twenty thousand people, received nearly two hundred comments from the public on the proposed measure, with sixty percent being against it. Residents like Jim Roseburg sent four emails to various city council members concerned about the issue, which Kansas City obtained through a public records request. Roseburg’s biggest issue was that such a mandate would “infringe on our civil rights and liberties.” He was worried about “where would it stop.” Other complaints appeared to come from a template, with four commenters having the same email verbatim. Many of those who wrote in threatened to take their business elsewhere if the ordinance passed.

June 29

After a spike in cases and public protests in the downtown area, KCMO mandates that masks be worn in public through July 12.

June 29

Anti-mask activists target KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas, who received death threats, including ones from people who said they’d like to “see him hanging from a tree.” Like in Prairie Village, people feared a mandate would impede their personal freedoms. Many also claimed masks don’t help and may do more harm, contradicting experts. Among the messages Lucas got, one said masks are “useless to those who don’t have the illness” and asked “Why are you doing this? You know the majority of the nation is against it? You’re a public servant, sir—not a dictator.”

June 29

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly issues a statewide mask order for public places to take effect on July 3. She provided exemptions for those who are under five or have medical conditions.

June 30

Wyandotte County also issues a masks order following Kansas’ and KCMO’s orders.

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