Wearing face masks in most public and in some private settings will be mandatory in Columbia starting at 5 p.m. Friday.
After the Columbia City Council passed an amended emergency ordinance just before midnight at Monday night’s City Council meeting, everyone age 10 and older will be required to wear face masks when around people outside their household. This includes public and private settings. The council hopes this will help curb the spread of COVID-19.
The ordinance includes exceptions for people with disabilities, and masks can be removed to do the following activities:
- Eat or drink at a restaurant or bar.
- Play sports or exercise outdoors.
- Drive in a vehicle.
- Communicate with the deaf or hard of hearing.
- Receive dental examinations and other services that require you to remove your mask.
- Staying put in a business 6 feet away from other patrons.
People can also remove their masks at the request of a police officer, medical professional or if their identity needs to be confirmed.
Businesses are required to provide masks to their employees.
Punishment for failing to wear a mask is a $15 fine for individuals and $100 for businesses. Businesses will be fined $100 for each employee, so if three different employees aren’t provided masks, for example, the business would be fined $300 total.
The ordinance does not apply to property of the county, state or federal government such as the Boone County Courthouse or MU.
MU, however, plans to require students to wear masks in classrooms this fall.
The rule as written will remain in effect for 90 days but can be lengthened or shortened at the discretion of the council.
The ordinance passed by a vote of 6-1, with only Fifth Ward Councilman Matt Pitzer voting against it. Because it was an emergency ordinance, it required six votes to pass.
Pitzer felt some aspects of the ordinance went too far. He was unhappy that it required masks in private homes when residents are around people from outside their households, and he felt the 90-day duration was too long. He unsuccessfully lobbied the council to amend those portions of the ordinance.
The mandate didn’t pass without ample debate. Before the meeting, two separate protests occurred outside the Daniel Boone City Building, one in support of the ordinance and one against it. About 40 people gathered for the dueling protests.
Brian Beckstrom, a tobacco salesman in Columbia, opposed the ordinance.
“I don’t believe they prove to be effective,” he said of masks. “I think we’re going to punish business even more.”
Beckstrom said he also doesn’t believe the ordinance is enforceable.
Other people opposed a government mandate.
“We’re not here because we’re against masks,” Julie Artemova, a physical therapist assistant at Boone Hospital Center, said. “We’re here because we’re against the government overreaching.”
Artemova said what concerned her most about the ordinance was that it required people to wear masks in their own homes when they are around people outside their household.
Artemova said she was born in the Soviet Union and moved to the United States in her 20s. Her experience with the government there, she said, informs her stance on the situation.
Protester Amy Spain supported the ordinance.
“Because someone doesn’t want to wear a mask, we get to be sick? That’s not fair,” she said.
Spain said she worries that her grandson, who has Reiter’s syndrome, is at a higher risk for more serious symptoms should he contract COVID-19.
Discussion was extensive during the actual council meeting. More than two dozen residents representing both sides of the argument addressed the council before it voted.
“This is probably one of the most important decisions you will make as a City Council,” Alyce Turner, who supported the ordinance, said.
MacKenzie Everett-Kennedy, a teacher and owner of Papa’s Cat Café on Second Street, came out in support of masks as well.
“People are not engaging in basic public safety practices, and for that reason, it’s time for our local authorities to take action,” she said.
She said that patrons have responded positively to measures she’s put in place at her business and that her at-risk patrons are especially thankful.
Everett-Kennedy said representatives of 36 other local businesses, including Shakespeare’s Pizza and Yellow Dog Bookshop, have signed her letter in support of the ordinance.
Chris Devine spoke against the ordinance.
“Boone County and Missouri are both the United States,” he said. “Last time I checked, it’s a free country.”
The ordinance comes in the wake of a rise in COVID-19 cases. Boone County recorded 145 new cases between June 29 and Sunday and 15 on Monday alone. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 513 cases total in the county.
Stephanie Browning, director of the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services, told the council that a mask mandate is an important step toward curbing the spread of the virus.
The county’s positivity rate — the percentage of tests that come back positive — was 15.17% for the week beginning June 26. It was 0.4% the first week in May.
Browning said much of the increase in coronavirus cases is a result of young people failing to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
On Tuesday, Christian Basi of the MU News Bureau said administrators are examining the ordinance.
“We’re reviewing the approved ordinance and will likely have discussions about it over the next few days to determine how it might impact MU and any plans for reopening in the fall,” Basi said.