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As the coronavirus pandemic continues, cities around the nation are considering or have already passed ordinances to require face coverings in public.
Whether Jefferson City creates a mask ordinance is uncertain, but the possibility may be influenced by case numbers in the area. At this time, no City Council member said they believe Jefferson City should have a mask ordinance.
However, for some of them, the issue is not set in stone.
Ward 2 Councilman Mike Lester said a mask ordinance isn't warranted in the city yet, but if the number of cases were to increase, he might reconsider.
As of Saturday, there were 134 total cases of the virus in Cole County, with 43 active, 89 recovered and two deaths.
"If there is a clear, significant uptick in COVID-19 cases in Cole County, the council should consider implementing strategies to reduce risks of virus spread," Lester said. "A major implementation strategy would be to pass a mask ordinance. This would be mainly to emphasize to the public of the value and efficacy of wearing masks to limit virus spread."
For some council members, including Ward 5 Councilman Mark Schreiber, the issue of enforcement stops them from backing a mask ordinance.
"If you legislate such a thing, how do you actually enforce it?" Schreiber said. "Who actually does the policing to make sure that it's being followed, and what do you put in place and do from an enforcement standpoint? At this point, I would say I'm not in favor of it."
Recently, the Columbia City Council approved an ordinance which requires everyone 10 years of age or older to wear a mask when around people who are not household members. The ordinance was approved with a 6-1 emergency vote and went into effect Friday.
Masks will need to be worn when it's not possible to stay at least 6 feet away from non-household members including inside retail establishments, restaurants and bars or at sporting events.
The ordinance applies within the city limits and does allow for medical exemptions. Exemptions are also made for various situations including for outdoor activities when maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet or when services like dental work require removal of the mask.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using a face covering to stop the spread of respiratory droplets from an infected person entering the air.
The CDC recommends people wear cloth face coverings in public settings around people from outside their household, especially when social distancing is difficult to maintain. Cloth face coverings like homemade reusable masks should be used by the public, as opposed to medical options like surgical masks or N95 respirators, which should be saved for health care workers and first responders.
In Columbia, individuals will be fined $15 for not wearing a mask, and businesses will be fined $100 per employee not wearing a mask. Their ordinance will be in effect for 90 days, unless shortened or lengthened by the council.
Jefferson City Ward 4 Councilman Ron Fitzwater said he does not believe there is enough public support for a mask ordinance in the Capital City.
"With the State Health Department and the Cole County Health Department right here in our city, I think we should defer to the experts and take guidance from them regarding safety measures that can be implemented, which we have done over the past three to four months," Fitzwater said. "But I do not support mandating masks throughout the city."
Ward 3 Councilwoman Erin Wiseman said she does not support a mask ordinance currently.
"I want to believe that Jefferson City residents are responsible enough to determine when they do and do not need a mask without criminalizing things in a health crisis," Wiseman said. "The information continues to evolve and as information continues to be available, I may change my mind."
In their own lives, most council members said they wear masks routinely when necessary, such as at the grocery store or when social distancing is not possible.
Fitzwater said he wears a mask when required or strongly encouraged but not routinely every day. Instead, he said, he tries to maintain safe social distancing when possible.
Wiseman said she always carries a mask with her and wears one based on her comfort level — who she is around and their health and comfort level and the amount of people in the space around her. While working her day job as a lawyer in court, she said she does wear a mask.
Ward 3 Councilman Ken Hussey said he and his family try to limit their time in public spaces, and they wear masks when out.
"The simple act of wearing a mask is easy and can help slow the spread of COVID-19," Hussey said. "We strive to do our part in this effort."
Like Fitzwater, Hussey said he defers to the opinions of the Cole County Health Department. Several council members said they would seek input from either health officials or the community.
Ward 4 Councilman Carlos Graham said the city is relying on the residents to do what they need to do to keep the spread of COVID-19 down, including wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and staying home when possible.
Ward 5 Councilman Jon Hensley said he hopes the city can continue to combat the virus without mandating masks be worn.
"We can avoid more economic disruption, shutdowns and other official restrictions — not to mention the potential physical pain and suffering of our friends, family and neighbors — if everyone pitches in now and does their part to reduce opportunities for this illness to spread in our community," Hensley said. "I hope we can continue combating the spread of the illness through voluntary adoption of these common-sense precautions, though all options must be on the table if evidence begins to indicate that we are no longer succeeding."
Mayor Carrie Tergin — who would only vote on a potential ordinance in the event of a tie vote from the council — said the city is strongly encouraging residents to wear masks.
"As a mayor, I ask everyone to continue to do their part to reduce the spread," Tergin said. "We have put good habits in place over the last several months, including keeping distance and allowing our local businesses to operate by allowing contactless curbside and delivery when the orders originally were in place months ago, and we want to maintain those habits. A new good habit will include wearing a mask."
If cases continue to rise, council members say they would reconsider the possibility of a mask ordinance or other strategies to reduce spread. Cole County and the city allowed stay-at-home orders to expire the first week of May, and some of the mayor's emergency declarations also expired.
"I think anything is on the table at this point," said Ward 2 Councilwoman Laura Ward. "If the numbers, research and medical advice is pointing to putting some strategies back in place, I'm supportive of what those strategies may look like."
Ward 1 Councilmen Hank Vogt and David Kemna did not respond to multiple attempts for comment about a possible mask ordinance.