COVID transmission outdoors is virtually zero, and emails reveal that public health officials believe masks are ineffective barriers to viruses. However, Johnson County Parks and Rec officials require unvaccinated employees to don facial coverings even as summer temperatures soar.  County health officials also require masks on children, staff, and visitors in summer camp programs.

Johnson County’s COVID-19 Policy for Summer Camps in Licensed Child Care Programs includes claims not supported by NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, like this one: “Masks protect the wearer and those around them.”

And despite evidence to the contrary, county guidance says, “All people in camp facilities should wear masks at all times with exceptions for certain people, or for certain settings or activities, such as large motor play outside, while eating and drinking, or swimming.”

The Sentinel asked the Johnson County Parks and Recreation Department about masking rules at Theater in the Park, an outdoor theater venue in Shawnee.

“Theater in the Park employees who have not been vaccinated are not required to wear a mask when able to achieve physical distancing,” JCPRD director Jeff Stewart said. “Currently TIP employees that have not been vaccinated are asked to wear a mask while working inside facilities and while unable to achieve social distancing while working outside.”

Scientists are reaching a consensus that outdoor COVID transmission is rare.

“There is not a single documented COVID infection anywhere in the world from casual outdoor interactions, such as walking past someone on a street or eating at a nearby table,” the Times reported in May.

Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, admitted in an email that masks offer little protection against COVID transmission.

“Masks are really for infected people to prevent them from spreading infection to people who are not infected rather than protecting uninfected people from acquiring infection,” Fauci wrote in a Feb. 5 email. “The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through material. It might, however, provide some slight benefit in keep (sic) out gross droplets if someone coughs or sneezes on you.”

Vaccination rates reduce transmission likelihood

As more and more people vaccinate, the likelihood of outdoor COVID transmission nears zero.

According to the Johnson County tracking website, the county boasts an almost 45% vaccination rate among eligible residents. More than 52% of eligible residents received at least one jab as of June 8.

“We do not require employees to provide proof of vaccination, but trust that they follow the protocol in place,” Stewart said of county parks staff.

Other outdoor venues in neighboring communities dropped the outdoor mask and social distancing mandates. Kauffman Stadium returned to full capacity on May 31. Masks are not required. However, the stadium recommends that non-vaccinated attendees mask up.

Stewart didn’t say what studies Johnson County used to craft its mask policies.

“Following (Johnson County Department of Health and Environment) guidance has been our practice since the beginning of the pandemic, and we stand ready to update our protocols as the environment and JCDHE guidance changes,” he said.

County commissioners declined to say why they are requiring masks when most health officials say masks are not necessary or effective.

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