Locals push for Fulton mask ordinance

Masked locals gathered at the Fulton City Council meeting Tuesday to request a citywide mandatory masking ordinance.

“We’re all in the pandemic together,” said Carol Fulkerson, one of the Fulton residents supporting the idea of a mask ordinance. “The only way we can protect each other is by working together to survive.”

Though no such ordinance has been drafted or voted upon, the City Council agreed to discuss the possibility and its pros and cons during an upcoming COVID-19-related meeting.

About 10 Fulton residents appeared in support of the issue, though only a half-dozen addressed the council during the public comment portion of the meeting. One individual, 54 Country owner Kirt Kleindienst, spoke against the idea of a mask ordinance.

Those speaking in favor included a doctor and several local business owners.

Fulkerson, a former medical social worker who owns a sheep farm with her husband, was first to speak.

“I’m at double-high risk for COVID-19 — I’m older than 65, and I have asthma,” she explained. “My preference is to buy locally almost everything I consume. However, I’m feeling less and less protected here.”

Risk factors

Missouri reported 936 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, the state’s largest single-day total to date. Though cases in Callaway County have been relatively few so far — 62 reported as of Tuesday, of which 13 were active — numbers are growing in the greater Mid-Missouri area. According to Dr. James Stevemer, medical director at Callaway Physicians, Mid-Missouri’s active cases doubled over the past week.

“Missouri is in trouble — serious trouble,” Fulkerson said. “Mitigating through hand-washing and physical distancing is obviously not enough to keep us safe or we wouldn’t be seeing this much growth.”

She noted in a few short weeks, college students will be returning to Fulton’s Westminster College and William Woods University, potentially carrying the disease back from their hometowns and spreading it among themselves in the dorms.

“Right now, one-third of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in St. Louis are young adults,” Fulkerson said.

WWU was an early hotspot for COVID-19 in Fulton, with around 10 cases cropping up among students in March. Though both colleges plan a return to in-person classes (with optional online courses), they’ve also announced plans to comply with social-distancing guidelines and step up cleaning.

Stevermer pointed to the Fulton Reception and Diagnostic Center and the Fulton State Hospital as two other places where the disease could spread rapidly, both among inmates and to staff. The doctor said he is “strongly in support” of introducing a mask ordinance in Fulton.

“(COVID-19) is still quite lethal,” he said. “Of those who don’t die, often they suffer for a long time.”

There is no vaccine or proven cure for the disease, and a recent study in the European Heart JournalCardiovascular Imaging found more than half of COVID-19 survivors had developed cardiac abnormalities; other studies point to lingering respiratory issues.

According to Stevermer — and mounting scientific evidence — “masking works.”

He pointed to a well-documented situation in Springfield in which two hair stylists became infected with COVID-19 and interacted with 139 clients and six coworkers before being diagnosed. The stylists spent at least 15 minutes in close quarters with each client.

But not a single client became infected — likely because the stylists and customers all wore masks. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization both recommend wearing masks to reduce the airborne disease’s spread.

Potential impact

Beth Snyder and Cindy Baker, both owners of several businesses within Fulton, focused on the economic benefits of masking.

Snyder, who owns 1Canoe2 among other businesses, said an outbreak of COVID-19 at her storefront would devastate her income. If one of her employees gets sick, the business will have to close while the other workers get tests and wait to see if symptoms develop. She estimated that closure could last up to two weeks.

“In two weeks, we ship 20,000 to 40,000 items,” she said. “That’s around $50,000 every two weeks. Losing $50,000 after this pandemic is not feasible for my company.”

She said if rising cases force another county-wide or citywide shutdown, many small businesses simply wouldn’t survive.

“I don’t know how you can go wrong erring on the side of caution,” Baker said.

Baker, who operates Errand Runners and The Spot, said sales and foot traffic are already way down in downtown Fulton. She suspects some are avoiding in-person shopping because they can’t count on fellow shoppers to wear masks and follow other safety precautions.

“We need a mask ordinance to make people feel safer so they can get back out again,” she said.

Fulton resident Helen Logan addressed the common concern that requiring people to wear masks infringes on their rights.

“In September of 1985, seatbelt laws were implemented in Missouri,” she said.

Logan said similar arguments about rights were made about requiring children to wear seatbelts, and yet, the legislation remained and is enforced to this day.

“You must not consider the current idea that’s going around that the government is taking our freedom because I think we all know that’s not the case,” she said. “We do things that the government tells us to do every day. We drive our cars at the speed limit, we pay taxes, and you know what else? We still put our kids in car seats and seatbelts.”

Government requirements such as these are focused on keeping the community safe, Logan said. The same would be true of a mask ordinance, she argued.

David Coplen, Fulkerson’s husband, tried to give the City Council an idea of what such an ordinance could look like. He pointed to Columbia’s ordinance, passed last week, as a potential model. Residents will be fined $15, and businesses $100, for violations.

“No one wants to do this to make money,” he said. “They’re passing out masks for free and giving people warnings. It’s a public safety issue.”

Coplen said he recently visited Columbia to speak to shoppers and business owners about the ordinance, and none felt greatly inconvenienced by wearing masks.

After the above six spoke in favor of an ordinance, Kleindienst took the stand. His business, 54 Country, hosts regular dances and live bands.

Kleindienst admitted he wasn’t a health expert, though he said he had read up on the disease. He also said cases were rising despite a quarantine designed to “flatten the curve.” On the other hand, he said, hospitals in the area haven’t been overwhelmed, and health care workers across the country have been laid off.

But, he argued, wearing a mask should be a personal choice. He said he wears a mask while at work at Columbia Water and Light.

“The government isn’t here to blanket businesses with mandates,” he said, later adding: “I respect the decision to wear or not to wear a mask. I’m not opposed (to masking) — that’s everyone’s right as an American citizen.”

Kleindienst voiced opposition to introducing a mask ordinance.

“If such an ordinance were to be passed, 54 Country would not comply,” he said.

The council remained noncommittal about whether members planned to draft a mask ordinance. Mayor Lowe Cannell noted the city has so far followed the Callaway County Health Department’s lead on anti-pandemic measures. Ward 3 City Council member Lindsey Pace-Snook said she had received emails opposing a local mask ordinance.

However, council members agreed the idea is worth discussing.

“I can appreciate the Callaway County Commission wanting to have COVID-19 conversations, but we as elected officials haven’t been included in that,” Ward 3’s John Braun said. “It’s hard to explain what’s going on (with the COVID-19 response) when we don’t know firsthand.”

He said Fulton council members haven’t been invited into meetings between the CCHD and Callaway County commissioners in some time.

Cannell suggested a meeting for City Council members to discuss Fulton’s ongoing response, especially as cases continue rising. Bob Washington, of Ward 4, said council members could potentially come to an agreement on a proposal to bring before the county.

Cannell promised to arrange such a meeting, at which a potential mask ordinance will be discussed. The meeting will be open to the public, but no time or date has yet been set.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, rumors about the city of Fulton passing a mask ordinance swirled on social media. Wednesday, the city clarified via a post on Facebook that no such ordinance had been passed.

Mask requirements spread

Whether or not the city implements a mask ordinance, customers will still have to mask up in some locations around town.

On Wednesday, Walmart’s chief operating officer announced plans to require all shoppers to wear face masks beginning July 20 at all Walmart locations. A “Health Ambassador” will be stationed at the door of each Walmart to remind customers who try to enter without a mask of the requirement.

“We are currently considering different solutions for customers when this requirement takes effect on July 20,” Walmart’s press release added. “We know it may not be possible for everyone to wear a face covering. Our associates will be trained on those exceptions to help reduce friction for the shopper and make the process as easy as possible for everyone.”

Daniel Boone Regional Library is also now requiring all visitors 10 years and older and all staff to wear face masks at each of its six locations, including the Callaway County and Holts Summit libraries. The library will provide disposable masks to patrons who enter without one.

Patrons are also required to follow the 6-foot social-distancing guideline, DBRL added.

— to www.fultonsun.com

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