Last edited 1:37 p.m., Oct. 6, 2020
With local coronavirus cases continuing to grow, Springfield City Council last night voted unanimously to extend the city’s masking mandate through early 2021.
The extended mandate means face coverings must continue to be worn at all businesses within public spaces, including social clubs and sporting events. Violations could result in a fine of up to $100. In addition, business owners who do not comply and require face coverings in their establishments may face suspension or revocation of their business permit or license, according to the new ordinance. First enacted in July, the mandate now is extended until Jan. 9.
Springfield-Greene County Public Health Department Director Clay Goddard yesterday said 392 cases were added in just the first four days of October. As of this morning, there have been 7,703 cases and 101 deaths in Greene County since the pandemic began, according to the Health Department's COVID-19 dashboard.
“Nobody likes wearing these masks; nobody likes taking these steps. But we recognize that we have rights and responsibilities, and an inconvenience is worth it to protect the health of our fellow citizens, keep local businesses open and keep the community running,” council member Matthew Simpson said before voting.
However, 12 of the 17 public speakers who addressed council opposed the extension. Springfield artist Meike Aton told council members the mandate has hurt small businesses.
“It used to be a joyful gathering place. Now, it is not,” Aton said of her art gallery at 1200 E. Woodhurst Drive. “I offer therapeutic creativity with my art workshops – now, I am not. These are great losses to the community, especially during times of uncertainty, like we are facing right now.”
She encouraged council to recommend the masks rather than require them.
“If the businesses are not a concern to you, you probably still have your job and your livelihoods,” said Aton.
Springfield Director of Public Information and Civic Engagement Cora Scott said the city received 1,067 comments online prior to the meeting, and 878 were in support of the proposal.
“Additionally, we had 225 calls submitted. We received 169 in support and 56 in opposition,” she said via email.
Council also heard from local college officials, who recently penned an open letter to council recommending the face mask extension. Leaders of Missouri State, Evangel and Drury universities, as well as Ozarks Technical Community College, told council they were in favor of extending the masking mandate.
“We have seen almost a 100% compliance with the masking requirement,” MSU President Clif Smart said. “We have seen our numbers go down five weeks in a row; most importantly, we have not had a single faculty member contract the virus while teaching in a classroom.”
Council approved the mandate 8-0, with council member Phyllis Ferguson recusing herself from the vote. She also abstained from voting on the mandate this summer, due to her role in the restaurant industry that must enforce the mandate. Ferguson serves as chief operating officer for Mexican Villa.
“Based on the possibility of an appearance of impropriety – no matter how I vote – I will be abstaining tonight from voting on the masking ordinance to avoid an appearance of impropriety and to preserve public faith in the actions of City Council,” Ferguson said during the vote.
Council member Jan Fisk said future extensions are possible.
“Not until I have proof from our experts that our cases are manageable, will I ever entertain expiring this ordinance,” Fisk said before voting.
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