What began as a small gathering of individuals turned into a group of more than 75 people who filled the Pettis County Health Center waiting area Thursday morning, at times demanding to be heard prior to a  scheduled vote on a proposed mandatory mask ordinance for Pettis County.

Following what became a heated discussion between some present, the Pettis County Health Center Board of Administrators tabled the vote and approved a motion to host a public forum within the next seven days to allow citizens an opportunity to speak before the entire board.  

John Spratley, who was present from the outset of what organizers called a “peaceful protest,” told the Democrat he was “very much pleased” with the board’s actions, adding it gave him hope that the administrators would listen to the opinions of those present.

The health center board was scheduled to meet at noon to vote on an ordinance mandating the wearing of masks that, if approved, would have gone into effect Aug. 3 as a means to help contain the increasing number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported in Pettis County.

According to reports, including information provided to the Democrat, the Federal Coronavirus Task Force has singled out Sedalia, Pettis County and Missouri as a city, county and state with a very high level of transmission of the coronavirus.

“In addition, the county has experienced a significant increase in both the total number of cases as well as the number of cases that are active, meaning the people with the disease are capable of spreading the disease,” according to a release from the health center. “A surveillance study in Missouri indicated that there are approximately 23 cases of coronavirus for every person who has a positive test.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the health center, two of the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus are to follow social distancing and wear a mask.

“The recommendations from the Federal government for the counties in the red zone are much more restrictive than a face covering mandate,” the release stated. “At this time, a face covering is the least restrictive option provided.”

According to health center information, neighboring counties where mask requirements have been implemented have seen a decrease in the number of confirmed cases reported daily.

Many citizens in attendance do not agree that masks prevent the spread of the virus.

One individual questioned Health Center Administrator JoAnn Martin, asking, “do you realize you are trying to take away our rights?”

Martin responded, “Where do you have the right (by not wearing a mask) to make other people sick?” adding, “It is my job to protect the community.”

Martin was appointed to her position in March 2014 by the Pettis County Commission. Missouri Statutes (RsMO 192.300 and RsMO 192.280) give Martin as the county health administrator the legal authority to issue health mandates and orders following board approval.

“I think they were backed into a corner at this point and got caught trying to move too fast,” Rusty Kahrs, a spokesperson for the “Resist the Mandatory Masks” movement, said following the vote. “We appreciate the fact the board reversed course to allow some to be heard.”

Kahrs added it is “unfortunate no one on this board, which is an elected body, has never been on the ballot – they lack the moral authority to pass ordinances like this since they have never been elected.”     

Since the formation of the group approximately two weeks ago, there are 469 members, according to Kahrs, who noted the members have hired Sedalia attorney Stanley Cox as their legal counsel.

Individuals were to be given two minutes for public comment during an open forum organized by the health center prior to the board meeting and through Zoom. It was Cox who first suggested during the open forum prior to the meeting that those present would not speak until they could address the board as a whole in person.

Numerous disruptions by those present including verbal outbursts, which prompted the arrival of Sedalia Police Department officers, and technical difficulties led to the motion to postpone the vote. 

The board will host a public meeting within the next seven days at a location and time to be determined to allow the public to comment on the proposed mandatory mask ordinance.  

Once the time and location are decided, meeting information will be posted at the Pettis County Health Center and in the Sedalia Democrat.

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Education Reporter

Hope Lecchi is the education reporter for the Democrat, covering all things education in Sedalia and Pettis County, as well as providing general assignment and feature coverage. She can be reached at 660-530-0144.

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