Almost exactly nine months after it was enacted, the Pettis County face covering rule will end next week.
The Pettis County Health Center Board of Trustees voted unanimously during Thursday’s meeting to rescind the order effective at 12:01 a.m. May 12. It will be replaced with a public health advisory.
About 30 people attended the meeting at the Health Center. Due to the large number of visitors, only board members, PCHC Administrator JoAnn Martin and the administrative support manager were allowed in the conference room. Visitors watched a live-stream of the meeting on a TV in the Health Center lobby, although a few visitors asked PCHC employees several times for access to the conference room. It was also live-streamed on the Pettis County Health Center’s Facebook page.
Throughout the meeting, visitors made comments about wearing masks, criticized the board’s decisions, questioned the expertise of people working at the Health Center, laughed when board members stumbled over their words, and loudly applauded and cheered when the board approved rescinding the rule.
When one attendee asked those around her who Martin was when she was giving her administrator’s report, a fellow attendee replied that Martin is the “Health Center dictator.” A PCHC employee wearing a mask while seated in the lobby drew the ire of some people sitting around her, causing a small argument between her and an attendee. Later in the meeting during the board’s discussion about how to handle Facebook comments, an attendee called Martin a “dumb b----” after hearing Martin’s response to whether or not the Health Center blocks commenters.
Some of the visitors included Sedalia School District 200 Board of Education member Matthew Herren, who has pushed for the district to end its own mask rule; Sedalia attorney Stanley Cox, who filed a lawsuit against the Health Center just days after the rule went into effect in August on behalf of several plaintiffs who said the rule infringed on their rights and that it could not legally be enforced; and a few of the lawsuit plaintiffs including Rusty Kahrs, David Goodson and Heather Slagel. The lawsuit was dropped last year.
None of the visitors wore a mask.
Martin led the mask rule discussion by suggesting that it should be dropped and asked the board for their input on when that should happen.
“Today!” was the resounding reply from those gathered in the lobby.
Martin suggested keeping it in place until school is dismissed for the summer at all Pettis County schools at the end of May.
“Each school board will make their own decision, we’ll just communicate with them the timing (of the rule ending) and then the school boards will decide,” Martin said of mask rules in schools.
Board member Amanda McClain, who was elected last month in a highly contested race, asked why the rule couldn’t be ended immediately since there are so few cases in Pettis County schools. Martin agreed there aren’t many active cases in county schools, noting that most students currently in quarantine are due to exposure from a family member.
“This rule affects our children more than it affects anybody else. And that is because most adults and businesses within our county have said ‘we’re done,’ and said ‘we’re done’ a long time ago,” McClain said to applause from the crowd in the lobby. “But our kids are being affected by it. I’m hearing from a lot of parents who are upset because their kids have headaches.”
Board member Brody Kempton said the order should be rescinded “sooner rather than later” and suggested ending it one week from the meeting. Board member Brandy Von Holten, who was also elected last month, seemed to agree and suggested meeting in the middle, offering May 13 as a compromise. She said she’d like to see kids at graduation later this month without masks, although Martin pointed out that is the schools’ choice, not the Health Center.
McClain suggested ending it 48 hours after the vote, which would mirror how the rule was implemented in August.
The board and Martin eventually agreed to end the rule at 12:01 a.m. May 12 and to replace it with a public health advisory.
The advisory states all residents and visitors to Pettis County are “strongly encouraged” to follow the following practices to continue slowing the spread of COVID-19:
• Wear a face covering in accordance with the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Face coverings should continue to be worn indoors. Face coverings no longer need to be worn in small groups when everyone present is fully vaccinated or in most outdoor activities except for very large gatherings such as concerts or professional sporting events.
• Stay at home when ill. Be tested for COVID-19 if symptoms include cough, fever, headache, body aches, change/loss of sense of taste and/or smell, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.
• Be tested for COVID-19 approximately five days after close contact with a known positive case of COVID-19.
• Maintain social distancing of 6 feet when indoors in larger groups, particularly when unvaccinated individuals are present or vaccination status is unknown.
• Receive a COVID-19 vaccination. The Health Center will conduct walk-in clinics from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays. Bothwell Regional Health Center, Katy Trail Community Health and area pharmacies are also administering vaccines.
The advisory states it is up to each business and organization to decide which procedures they wish to follow, such as requiring a face covering to receive service.
The advisory also states there is no enforcement component to the advisory.
It may be updated if there is a “significant change in the CDC guidance.”
The board also discussed turning off Facebook comments on the Health Center’s page, not responding to any comments, or creating an internal policy for how to handle comments. McClain asked if anyone had gotten legal advice about the legality of turning off comments on a public entity’s page. Board Chair Phyllis Domann said she would contact legal counsel, but Kempton later suggested tabling the issue until the June meeting, noting that the page’s popularity would be likely to decrease now that the board voted to end the mask rule. All members agreed to discuss it again in June before making any decisions.
The meeting ended with McClain asking the board to consider adding a time for public comments to their monthly meetings.
The board agreed to add a public comment section, but also agreed to have Martin gather comment procedures from other boards and commissions before deciding how to implement it for the Health Center board. The board will discuss it again at the June meeting.
All members were present.