Last updated 11:43 a.m., July 14, 2020
Beginning July 16, face coverings will be required in public spaces in Springfield.
Springfield City Council unanimously approved the measure last night following four hours of public comment, largely against the ordinance.
Following the vote, Mayor Ken McClure called on each member of the community to assume personal responsibility of their health.
“No one wanted to be in a position to have to vote for this type of mandate,” he said. “However, the data and our lived experience over the last four months has made it crystal clear that it is exactly the right step and the right time to take in this chapter in the fight against the coronavirus.”
The ordinance will remain in effect for 90 days unless amended by council, according to bill documents. Council approved the mandate 8-0, with Councilperson Phyllis Ferguson recusing herself from the vote due to a potential conflict of interest. City Director of Public Information and Civic Engagement Cora Scott said Ferguson recused herself from the vote “out of an abundance of caution” due to her role as chief operating officer for Mexican Villa. Restaurants are among businesses expected to help enforce the ordinance, Scott said.
Face masks will be required at all businesses open to the public, social clubs, sporting events and schools except higher education facilities, according to the ordinance. Higher education officials are expected to draft their own rules for a similar mandate, said Scott.
A person found to be in violation of the ordinance is subject to a fine of up to $100, and owners or managers of businesses that do not enforce the ordinance are subject to a similar fine and could have their business license or building permit suspended or revoked, according to the ordinance.
People not required to wear a mask include those who have health conditions that prevent them from wearing a face covering; those who have trouble breathing; and children under the age of 11 years old – though children ages 3 to 11 are strongly recommended to wear a mask, according to the ordinance. Masks also are not required while at a swimming pool, exercising, eating or drinking in a public space while maintaining six feet from others or while outdoors and maintaining social distancing.
The vote came after hours of testimony from roughly 60 residents, with many citing infringements on civil liberties. Roughly 2,100 people were viewing the livestream at the time of the vote. City Clerk Anita Cotter said 8,592 forms were submitted online ahead of the vote, almost 70% of which were in support of the ordinance. Additionally, 3,287 voicemails were submitted to the city, with 56% in opposition, she said.
Springfield-Greene County Health Department Director Clay Goddard presented the ordinance to council, calling face masks necessary tools to combat COVID-19. The Health Department recorded 49 confirmed cases on July 13, just before the meeting – a record number of cases in one day, Goddard said. Over 157 cases also were confirmed from July 5-11, he said, which is the most in a week’s time.
“Our patience has worn out, and we’ve stopped applying what we learned during the stay-at-home orders to our new normal,” said Goddard. “We find ourselves rapidly approaching a point in this pandemic that is unmanageable.”
As of this morning, there were 568 confirmed cases in Greene County, which has doubled since the end of June, according to the Health Department’s COVID-19 dashboard. There have been eight confirmed deaths and another that was epidemiologically linked, meaning the individual had not been confirmed by a laboratory test but had a connection to another case and showed COVID-19 symptoms.
Those in opposition included members of the Everybody Wins Coalition.
Classy Llama LLC CEO Kurt Theobald and his brother, Kyle, both self-identified members of the coalition, asked council to vote against the ordinance. Kurt Theobald asked council to reconsider a mandate with the direction of community leaders.
“In order to adequately and effectively address these problems, a new approach requires a scaled solution that has thresholds for predefined responses, designed by a group of community leaders that represent every major segment of the community,” he said. “Instead of responding with the most extreme measures immediately while the virus is developing, we need to address it to the degree that it’s progressing.”
Kyle Theobald said the mandate would harm the local economy. He’s a partner at Verve Commerce Consultants and at Innovative Biomass, according to his LinkedIn profile.
“Many citizens will circumvent this ordinance by greatly limiting shopping and spending in Springfield. This is already happening with many weddings and events being held in other counties, driving Springfield residents out into other areas, which increases their likelihood of bringing back the virus from other regions on top of sending the revenues to outside economies,” he said. “This poses a compound threat to businesses who are struggling during this economic downturn already … either the businesses hurt their source of income by enforcing a mandate on customers, many who are unwilling to comply, or they endure excessive fines … for not complying.”
Several members of Faith Voices of Southwest Missouri spoke in favor of the mandate through videos posted to the group’s Facebook page. A post from the organization says at least two members were planning to speak to City Council but dropped out because they felt uncomfortable sitting in a room with people who were not wearing face masks.
Council members widely supported the mandate, calling it an important move for the community’s fight against COVID-19. Councilperson Craig Hosmer addressed claims by those speaking in opposition that the governing body was relying too much on health care experts.
“In a public health crisis, we should be out of office if we don’t listen to doctors,” he said. “We are either going to do a masking ordinance, or if something goes the wrong direction, we’re going to be closing this city again. Nobody on council and nobody in the city of Springfield wants that to happen again.”
A pair of area medical colleges that received state grant funding in the fall are now investing the funds toward technology and new programs with the intent of attracting more students to the nursing profession.