Less than a week after its first meeting to consider a mandatory face mask order for Pettis County, the Pettis County Health Center Board of Trustees approved the order Wednesday night.
Following an hour-long public comment period at Convention Hall at Liberty Park, the board under the recommendation of Health Center Administrator JoAnn Martin approved the order. It will go into effect at midnight Friday, Aug. 7 and remains in effect until rescinded by Martin, who is the County Health Officer, and the board.
Board members Brody Kempton and Ann Richardson voted in favor of the motion. Doris Thurston was opposed. Board member Vicki Sena was unable to attend due to a prior commitment. According to board policies, the chairperson of the board, Phyllis Domann, votes only in the case of a tie.
Roughly 150 to 200 individuals filled Convention Hall while maintaining social distancing guidelines when possible. Almost 30 individuals were given the opportunity to speak throughout the one-hour time frame. Unlike the meeting on July 30 at the health center, those in attendance remained in order with few disruptions to those speaking. Most who spoke were in opposition to a mandatory order for Pettis County.
The order states, “When in a place of public accommodation or public indoor space including but not limited to workplace, business, hotel, restaurant, place of worship, gym, childcare facility or public facility such as community center or library, individuals are required to wear a face covering that covers the nose and mouth simultaneously.”
The face coverings may be removed in restaurants and bars where individuals are actively eating or drinking but must be worn at all times otherwise. Face coverings are not required inside a solitary, enclosed workspace such as an office.
“The burden of COVID-19 is increasing in our community,” Martin told the Democrat prior to the meeting when explaining the need for an order. “The burden is not just those who are ill but also all of those who have been exposed and are required to stay home. This is impacting employers, workers, families, health care facilities and the community in general.
“There are fewer people who can participate in the life and commerce of the community,” she continued. “We need to control the virus and there are no strategies left besides wearing a mask, social distancing and good hand washing.”
Martin explained the health center has tried emphasizing personal responsibility but that has not flattened the curve.
“We are going to use this strategy,” Martin said. “If it is not successful we will look at any other options, but based upon the experience of other counties who have implemented a face covering mandate this strategy has worked. We need to do this to get our children safely back to school and keep everyone working.”
The ordinance states, “when individuals can absolutely guarantee that they will be able to maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet apart from all others masks are not required.”
Face coverings are not required when individuals such as a church pastor, keynote speaker or instructor are speaking to a group and can maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet apart from all others during the presentation.
Others who are also exempt include individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing or have a medical condition, mental health condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering. This includes persons with a medical condition for whom wearing a face covering could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance. Children under age 2 should never wear a face covering due to the risk of suffocation.
Athletes are not required to wear a mask when actively engaged in a sporting activity but are required when seated on the bench, listening to coaches and other activities that do not permit maintaining a 6-foot distance between participants. Coaches are required to wear a mask.
There have been a number of questions concerning the enforcement of the order. According to RsMO statutes 192.300 and 192.320, “any person, firm, corporation or association which violates this Order is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be prosecuted, tried, fined and/or imprisoned as otherwise provided by law.”
Martin as the Pettis County Health Officer is requesting local law enforcement in Pettis County to ensure compliance and enforcement. Parents and guardians are responsible for the behavior of their dependent juveniles.
The order goes on to state, “an owner, manager operator or employee of an area regulated by this Order may refuse service to any individual who refuses to wear a face covering in compliance with Order, however, an owner, manager, operator or employee shall neither require an individual to produce medical documentation verifying a medical condition or disability, nor ask about the nature of a medical disability.”
According to Sedalia attorney Stanley Cox, who has been retained as legal counsel for the “No Mandatory Masks” group, the health center board has no legal grounds to pass such an order.
Cox referenced a highlighted section of RsMo 192.300 on his phone that reads, “Any person, firm, corporation or association which violates any of the orders or ordinances adopted, promulgated and published by such county commission is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be prosecuted, tried and fined or otherwise provided by law.”
Although not highlighted, the section goes on to state, “The county commission or county health board of any such county has full power and authority to initiate the prosecution of any action under this section.”
“No matter what they do tonight it is not law,” Cox told the Democrat during a five-minute break in the meeting. “The statute clearly states the county commission must take action (on the matter).”
Cox told the Democrat he plans to meet with the Pettis County Commission as early as Thursday to discuss the matter.