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Last edited 1:24 p.m., July 17, 2020
After an eight-hour meeting, the Branson Board of Aldermen agreed to postpone its vote on requiring face masks in public to later this month.
As COVID-19 cases in Taney County have risen to 146 in the last month from 39, aldermen shared concerns over the wording of the mandate in the final hour of the special session. The meeting was livestreamed via YouTube.
“I’m not for this ordinance as it’s written. I don't think it’s enforceable,” said Ward I Alderman Bill Skains. “I’m not convinced that these things work, but will I wear it? Yes. I have a daughter with lupus.”
Ward III Alderman Jamie Whiteis said among his constituents, more are in favor than opposed. But he said the mandate needed to be reworked.
Branson City Attorney Chris Lebeck said the mandate to wear face coverings in public, which comes with a $100 penalty for noncompliance, does not violate any constitutional rights. He also warned against removing any further restrictions from the mandate.
“We water this down any further and it becomes a resolution, a recommendation,” he said.
Thirty-nine speakers took to the podium to share their views with the tourism city’s elected leaders. Of those, 31 spoke against the mandate, according to city of Branson spokesperson Melody Pettit.
Public speakers included business owners and residents, and concerns focused on the effectiveness of masks, personal liberties and whether the ordinance would adversely affect the city’s economy.
Sarah Rein, owner of Branson Party Rentals and Rosewood Floral, was among opponents of masks who spoke at the meeting. She said that since the Springfield ordinance on masking was approved, her company has had 15 cancellations.
"When a government mandates these laws, it creates fear in the couples that are planning these weddings," she said. "What people aren't factoring in is how much their guests are spending when they come to the Branson area."
Another person who spoke against the face mask mandate was Brian Seitz, pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church and local business manager at Splash Car Wash. He announced his bid for state representative for District 156 earlier this year.
"I and thousands of area citizens think that you as a Board of Aldermen are about to make a grievous mistake if you pass a mask ordinance that will effectively cripple the economy, restrict individual liberties and freedoms and issue an unjust government mandate that will make criminals out of individuals and businesses that refuse to comply,” he said. “This cannot happen."
Chris Myer, vice president of Myer Hospitality, said the city was fear mongering and that Branson’s positive COVID-19 numbers are better than other tourism cities.
“I think it’s disheartening when I see stuff like this coming out of the city that is scaring people and we felt that in our businesses when people call,” he said. “We don’t need more government control. We need more encouragement. You guys be the cheerleader, but let’s not mandate it and control it.”
Audrey Richards, an independent candidate for Missouri’s 7th Congressional District, spoke in favor of the mandate.
“I want to talk to you about the two things that Branson is known for: faith and freedom,” she said. “That same compassion is what informs my decision to wear a mask. How many lives are you willing to risk? When is enough enough?”
To start the meeting, Lebeck invited Cox Medical Center Branson’s Dr. Shawn Usery to share the medical case for masks. Usery said just a month ago, there were 39 COVID-19 cases in Taney County. Today, there are 146 positive cases, according to data from the Taney County Health Department.
“We routinely set records for daily new cases and weekly new cases in this part of the state,” he said, adding Taney County has 235 cases per 100,000 people. That number is 165 per 100,000 people in Springfield.
Usery said Cox in Branson has two doses of remdesivir, which helps to treat COVID-19, adding there is no guarantee of more doses available as health systems experience shortages across the county.
“The only thing I have left is personal behavior and mitigation strategies like masking,” he said.
Aldermen are scheduled to vote on the order July 28.
Purple Panda Filipino Food expanded; T-Mobile made its Ozark debut; and the first Queen City branch for Poplar Bluff-based First Midwest Bank opened.