Face masks will be required of the general public in Springfield starting July 16. Whether the suburb of Nixa follows suit with a public mask requirement of its own will be decided at a later date.
In the 11 o’clock hour, moments before the Springfield City Council voted 8-0 to adopt a public masking ordinance, Nixa Mayor Brian Steele asked City Attorney Nick Woodman to draft a pair of bills for the Nixa City Council to consider at a special meeting set for July 20. Each bill will contain language with a general public face covering requirement, but the language will differ on the onus of enforcement and how much enforcement would be complaint-driven.
Whether or not either of the bills are adopted July 20, Nixa and Ozark residents should be prepared to hear messages tied to an education campaign about COVID-19 virus spread prevention, and how mask use is part of the effort to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus across southwest Missouri. The public information campaign will involve officials from Nixa, Ozark, school districts, Christian County and other entities.
Nine different speakers addressed the Nixa City Council late into the night at Nixa City Hall July 13. Five of those speakers spoke openly against the idea that masks would be required in public.
None of the five city council members at the meeting had to cast deciding votes on Monday night, but at least two of them tipped their hands.
“I would certainly be willing to sacrifice a little bit of my personal freedom for the benefit of all,” District 1 Councilman Scott Perryman said.
District 2 Councilman Matt Barker told a story of a conversation he had with his 9-year-old son.
“He’s a smart kid. He’s smarter than me. He said, ‘Whether or not we know all of the science behind masks, if we can help 1 percent, why wouldn’t I wear it?’” Barker said. “If a third grader going into fourth grade is willing to do that, why can’t we. We talk about sacrificing our freedom and our liberty. If your greatest sacrifice in life is to put on a mask during a pandemic, you have it pretty easy.”
Mask mandate opponents
Andy Davis questioned the timing of the debate. Christian County logged its first lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 18. Stay-at-home orders for Nixa, Ozark and Christian County went into effect March 26, and were allowed to expire May 4.
“Why are we just now talking about a mask mandate? Didn’t this virus happen four months ago?” Davis asked.
Economically, Davis said now is not a good time to push mandates upon businesses still reeling from the impact that stay-at-home orders had on their sales and incomes.
“I don’t know if you know this, but people are hurting out there,” Davis said. “It’s crazy to me, all of this going on.”
Ron Sanders is a Nixa resident who opposes mandatory mask use.
“Some people are getting tunnel vision, some people are getting an agenda or pushing an agenda. Some people have a great sales pitch, especially in the middle of a pandemic,” Sanders said. “I think that this issue is one that can tear a community apart very quickly.”
Sanders asked the Nixa City Council to consider the people they govern, phrasing his request as “the people that you rule over.”
“Is it possible that all of those people have no symptoms whatsoever? And if that’s the case, maybe our immune systems are working the way that they’re supposed to be and herd immunity is being moved toward, and we’re stopping it by wearing the masks, we’re stopping it by restricting our movement and everything,” Sanders said.
Nixa Police Chief Joe Campbell said that effective enforcement of a mask order would depend on several factors, including strains on law enforcement resources, the amount of responsibility placed on business owners and citizens to report issues with mask use, and continuity between adjacent communities like Springfield and Ozark having their own masking orders, or lack of masking orders.
Plus, Campbell said, some Nixa residents and workers will not wear masks because of medical conditions or mental health conditions that make it unsafe for them to cover their mouths and noses.
“The more exceptions you give, the more difficult it becomes to have effective enforcement of this thing,” Campbell said.
Military veteran Jeffrey Lee worries about the problems Nixa police may encounter if they try to enforce mask mandates, especially if they issue citations.
“People will see this a government overreach, even though constitutionally, you’re covered. I don’t want our officers hurt over something silly,” Lee said.
Lee pointed out a vandalism case at Nixa City Hall from May 31, when a person or persons spray painted the name “George Floyd” along with at least two profane messages directed at police officers in black paint on the side of the city hall building.
“People literally spray painted our city hall because they hate the police,” Lee said.
A suggestion, Lee said, could work, but not a mandate.
“There is no bigger protest to when the government tells people to do anything,” Lee said.
Health officials ask for masks
Dr. Karen Peak, the administrator of the Christian County Health Department, is pushing for a public mask requirement across Christian County.
“We are in 100-percent support of the mandated face mask ordinance, again with the exceptions that you’ve talked about. I don’t know how else we can get the individuals to listen to us to wear the face masks,” Peak said.
Peak took over as the administrator of the Christian County Health Department on May 1, in the middle of the pandemic. Peak’s doctorate degree is in nursing practice in healthcare systems leadership. Peak has worked in nursing for 27 years, with 19 of those years spent in the public health arena.
Peak said that over a 12-day span in July, Christian County’s volume of patients infected and seeking treatment for COVID-19 jumped from 17 to 72.
“We have 72 people we are following right now that have COVID-19, and there are still more cases coming,” Peak said.
Requiring mask use could lead to a decline in cases, Peak said, which would lessen the chances of government groups considering stay-at-home orders or similar measures for a second time.
“We can at least try that at this point and see if that will take care of this issue. I don’t see these cases going away anytime soon if we don’t do that. No one wants the businesses to shut back down, but I really think we’re probably headed in that direction again,” Peak said.
When questioned by Councilman Jarad Giddens about the effectiveness of masking against the spread of the novel coronavirus, Peak asked him to think of COVID-19 prevention in layers.
“We do social distancing, you wear your mask, I wear mine, and we just keep going with hand hygiene, staying home if you’re sick, and eventually we close all of those holes,” Peak said. “It’s going to keep circulating until we get herd immunity or we get a vaccine here to vaccinate all of these individuals, but that’s probably not going to come anytime soon.”
“It is better to do something than nothing,” Dr. Kayce Morton said.
Morton is a pediatrician who lives in Nixa, practices in Springfield and serves as the president of the Greene County Medical Society.
“When we talk about what’s going on, we’re seeing an overwhelming increase in these cases. We did a really good job flattening the curve, and then once we started reopening, people again felt comfortable and started being able to get together and be around each other. What that does is it also elevates our risk,” Morton said.
Regionally, Morton said the volume of COVID-19 cases at hospitals and community clinics increased by 88 percent in the first two weeks of July.
Morton shared some data supporting face mask use from a report from June 2020. The report supports masking with examples of large businesses that showed decreases in COVID-19 diagnoses amongst workers after masking policies were put into place.
Masks, especially cloth masks or surgical masks outside of sterile operating room environments, will not stop viruses from spreading in every case, Morton said. However, mask supporters are pointing to a Springfield Great Clips salon as an example of masks preventing the spread of COVID-19. Two stylists wore masks while they cut clients’ hair for seven days. They were both considered to be infectious at the time, but wore masks while they worked. None of their clients contracted cases of COVID-19, according to the Springfield-Greene County Health Department.
“We are going to be, actually, one of those cases that is looked upon nationally about what to do,” Morton said of the Springfield Great Clips case.
Morton hopes that a public mask use policy can help reduce the burden on health departments and clinics that are stressed or understaffed.
“We just know that our resources are going to become very low. We’re already seeing resources in our public health departments here and in Greene County being depleted, and we’re going to get to the point where we can’t contact trace, and it’s going to be a free-for-all,” Morton said.
Masks required in city buildings
On July 10, Nixa City Administrator Jimmy Liles issued an emergency policy requiring masks to be used by city employees and patrons when they are inside city-owned buildings such as City Hall or the Nixa X-Center.
“We had to take some measures in the city to ensure the safety and health of our employees as well as the citizens that visit our facilities,” Liles said.
There are exceptions in place for children, persons who are exercising or swimming, and persons with underlying medical or mental health conditions that make it difficult or ill-advised to cover their mouths and noses.