Some Nixa residents objected to what a medical doctor had to say about preventing the spread of COVID-19, and the Nixa City Council heard about it.
Dr. David Barbe, a medical doctor who is the Vice President of Primary Care for Southwest Missouri in the Mercy health system spoke as a guest of the city council at a meeting Dec. 14. Nixa has been under a public face mask order since Oct. 21, which requires persons to cover their mouths and noses while in public spaces with some exceptions for persons with medical conditions and engaging in certain activities.
Nixa Mayor Brian Steele issued an executive order under powers granted to him by a state of emergency declaration that the city council enacted in March 2020 due to the public health concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic. The masking order is scheduled to expire at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31, unless the mayor or city council takes further action to extend or rescind it.
Barbe is the president of the World Medical Association, an international, independent group that represents physicians around the world that is active in medical ethics, human rights and public health.
At the meeting Dec. 14, Barbe said that masks are an effective tool for reducing the spread of COVID-19 when combined with other measures, social distancing and hand hygiene and sanitization.
“Nearly all of the medical community is very supportive of masking, as are the physicians and health care organizations both in the state, and as well as nationally,” Barbe said. “It is unfortunate, I think, that some of the controversy around masking seems to have become more political than medically-related.”
Steele said that he plans to keep the mask order going until its expiration date, at the very least. Steele, a software solutions developer who analyzes data as a key part of his professional career. He recently worked on data used in a Mayo Clinic study on the impact of the coronavirus.
“The goal behind the mask order is to keep businesses open,” Steele said. “At this point in time, I don’t believe there is any confusion on the science with regard to masking.”
Barbe cited research findings published in the Journal of Nature, the American Society for Microbiology and the Journal for the American Medical Association Internal Medicine. Barbe presented some findings from bench studies, which are conducted in controlled laboratories, and from case studies.
“We have more information about masking now then we did two, three or six months ago. There have been multiple scientific papers recently,” Barbe said. “All of the bench studies, the lab studies, show that masking reduces transmission from an infected person by 50 percent or more, and that mask wearing reduces the inhalation of viral particles from anywhere from 20 to 80 percent, depending on the design of the mask.”
The study published in the Journal of Nature used surgical face masks designed to protect patients from wound infection and contamination from the wearer, their surgeon. The study seven researchers shared through the American Society of Microbiology examined cotton masks, surgical masks and N95 masks. It specifically examined the volume of viral droplets and aerosols that a receiving person would inhale through different types of masks.
“Our airborne simulation experiments showed that cotton masks, surgical masks, and N95 masks had a protective effect with respect to the transmission of infective droplets/aerosols and that the protective efficiency was higher when masks were worn by the virus spreader,” the researchers wrote.
None of the masks tested in the simulation provided complete protection from virus droplets and aerosols, but all of the masks were found to reduce the viral load that passed through them to the wearer’s nose and mouth.
“The viral load that one inhales may be proportionate to the disease that that person then experiences, so if you inhale a smaller viral load, your likelihood of having no disease, asymptomatic disease or a mild disease is significantly improved compared to if you inhaled a large viral load,” Barbe said.
At the time the Nixa masking order went into effect in concert with a similar order in Ozark, the Christian County Health Department reported 1,193 active cases of COVID-19. As of Dec. 14, the Christian County Health Department reported 2,438 active cases of COVID-19 in Christian County, with 40 active hospitalizations and 29 deaths since June 22.
The masking order declares that face coverings are required in all public spaces where it is not possible to maintain at least 6 feet of distance from other people. The orders apply to businesses, churches and other non-residential places.
There are no restrictions on building capacities for restaurants, churches or retail stores in Nixa.
“If it does nothing more, it will at least flatten the curve so that the demand on the health care systems for higher-tech, higher-intensity care will be less at any given point in time,” Barbe said, adding the vaccinations began in Springfield hospitals on Dec. 15. “That plus masking, plus hand washing, plus reasonable social distancing are what we need to help us get through this pandemic."
Mask order opponents
Five Nixa residents spoke against the face mask order at the city council meeting Dec.
Jeffrey Belcher, who has been an outspoken critic of the mayor for several weeks, wanted to know if the Christian County residents who died of COVID had underlying conditions, and if they had reached advanced ages.
“We’re all gonna die,” Belcher said. “How long is everybody going to live? How long do you think you’re going to live?”
Ron Sanders asked the city council to examine Barbe’s motivations for speaking at the meeting. Sanders said that mandates scare people. He asked the mayor and city council to go back to strongly encouraging, but not requiring masks.
“Start encouraging people to do the right thing, and they will do it,” Sanders said.
Andy Davis said he is not against masks, and also favors hygiene practices and physical distancing in effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Davis does draw a line with actions by the city government that impact businesses.
“If we lose one business, that’s one business too many. We just need to do stuff our way, the Nixa way,” Davis said.
Davis is concerned that the mayor and city council did not listen to persons whose businesses are impacted by public health orders, and that citizens’ incomes have taken tremendous hits.
“We’re fighting each other,” Davis said. “What’s the endgame here? It just never ends. I don’t think you’re bad people, it’s not like that. I’m sorry, I’ve just seen so many people hurt by this.”
An announcement from the Springfield police chief raised alarm with Nixa’s Jeffrey Lee.
On Dec. 10, Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams noted that officers had been giving warnings, about 2,000 of them, to persons and businesses found to be in violation of Springfield’s masking order. Williams warned that warnings were going by the wayside, and would be replaced with citations.
In Nixa, violating the public masking order is punishable on conviction by a fine of up to $100, although no one has been cited for violating the order and no one has been fined.
Lee worried aloud to Steele that the mayor would order Nixa police officers into enforcing a difficult and unpopular law.
“Nobody wanted this, and you got up there, sir, and you made this happen, and now if this unfolds and you ask the officers to do this, you’re putting them in a different position, once again, on something that’s a hard thing anyway,” Lee said.
On July 20, the Nixa City Council voted 6-0 to strike down a bill that would have made masks mandatory in public. The vote came after almost five hours of debate and a public hearing where 41 people spoke to city council members.
In Ozark, an executive order requiring face covering use in public places has been extended to April 30, 2021.