The St. Francois County Health Center Board of Trustees unanimously passed amendments to the mask mandate during Monday’s special meeting at the health center. The board had passed the mandate 3-1 on Sept. 15 amid vocal protests and some support.
According to the health center, the amendments included the following:
- Language regarding criminal penalties has been removed because the order will not be signed or supported by the County Commission; nor will the prosecuting attorney or law enforcement support or enforce said order.
- Language regarding immunity has been removed, although the Health Center has statutory immunity under 537.600-610, RSMo., as do nearly all Missouri public entities per the Health Center’s liability insurance provider, MO PERM.
Poston said the health center's attorney, Rick Harris, worked with the attorney who issued a press release against the mandate, Tom Burcham, to achieve consensus on the revisions to the application and enforcement section.
The amended mandate also includes clarifications to the ages in the provisions section. Face coverings must be worn by residents ages 9 and over, the mandate says. Children ages 0-8 are exempt, but those ages 3-8 are encouraged to wear a face covering when in the direct supervision of an adult.
Also in the provisions section, they added "persons gathering at personal residences" under exemptions and added the word "authorize" to number four. It now reads, "businesses are authorized to deny entry to members of the public who refuse to wear face coverings."
The countywide mandate took effect on Monday and runs through Oct. 22, the board’s next meeting.
But many of those in attendance at Monday's special board meeting were opposed to the mandate and were upset that only three out of the five county health board members were present.
Chairman Jack Poston, Tara Wadlow and Jason King voted in favor of the mandate last week and attended the special meeting.
Dr. Victoria Damba, who voted against the mandate last Tuesday, and Jodi Bannister, who also missed last Tuesday's meeting, were said to have indicated they could not attend because of work or family reasons.
A few people commented before the meeting started that the board members' absence was “convenient.”
“It's a shame you scheduled a board meeting when the only person who voted against it cannot be here,” Drew Wheatley said.
There was a public comment period at the start of the meeting. The board allowed 10 people to comment for one minute each.
All 10 people who spoke disagreed with the mandate. At times, the meeting resembled a church service with vocal amens, affirmations and clapping during and after the comments.
Melissa Workman was the first to speak. She brought with her the petition against the mandate that she started after last week’s meeting.
“I'm not here to determine what your motives were,” Workman told the board. “But you certainly did not think this all the way through. You've been reckless and divisive and the simple fact is that the data does not justify this extreme overreach. This petition is the voice of the people in this county. This has over 5,000 signatures on it, which is more than many elections that are held in the county.”
When asked by Poston if she was going to leave a copy of the petition with the board, she said no. She insisted board members could reach out to her if they wanted to see it.
“I'm letting you know that these people aren't going away after today, even if you vote for it and you continue it,” she added.
Joyce Alexander, who indicated she was a former nurse, got the biggest round of applause from the anti-mandate crowd. She said masks aren’t going to help and that people who wear them and then put them in their purse or pocket and then wear them again are just causing contamination.
“We have been told the science behind it, the science behind it, but no one has ever shown the science because there really isn't any,” she said.
A quick Google search shows several scientific studies indicating widespread mask-wearing has corresponded with a decrease in COVID-19 cases.
Once the public comment period was over, the meeting's resemblance to a church service faded away as the affirmations turned into heckling and disruptions during the board’s discussion about the amendments. During the voting period, there were chants of “this is unconstitutional.”
The amended mandate can be read at http://sfchc.org/covid-19-updates/.
Nikki Overfelt is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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