The Board of Trustees of the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center unanimously voted on Aug. 25 to extend its emergency face covering order until its next regular board meeting on Sept. 22.
“The decision to issue and extend the face covering order was not taken lightly,” Public Health Center Director Jane Wernsman said. “Multiple factors were considered including the positivity rate of testing, increased regional hospitalization rates, increasing active cases in Cape County and the southeast region.”
Around 50 people attended the meeting at the Osage Centre, and each attendee who signed in before the meeting started was allowed four minutes to speak to the board. Several spoke against the mask order, while a few spoke in favor.
Robert Frieze, who said he has been fighting heart failure for 20 years, said it is hard for him to breathe even without a mask. He said it should be his right as an American to do as he pleases. “I should not have to walk into a place of business like Walmart and be stared at and ridiculed because I am not masked,” Frieze said.
College student Cassidy Klein agreed, saying she has breathing problems and is considered high risk due to her health condition. Though she is exempt from the mandate because of her problem breathing, Klein said that healthy people should also be able to not wear a mask.
“I already had the coronavirus,” Klein said. “That didn’t do anything to me. I’m still here, I’m still alive.”
Mark Gihring said he was against the mask order, in part because of the hardship his mother is facing emotionally due to the pandemic. “I know this county mandate isn’t what closed her facility,” Gihring said. “I get that, but it’s the same mentality of fear and this misconception that somehow the number of years a person lives is more important than the quality of life during those years.”
Gihring added that he didn’t believe masks worked and he cares about other’s health, but “I care enough to stand here and state the indisputable statistic that 100 percent of us are going to die.”
Rita LaVanchy also argued that masks don’t work and that people should focus more on getting fresh air and sunlight. “We need to promote health rather than a forced mask mandate that hinders health and immunity,” she said.
Board Vice Chairperson Georganne Syler agreed with LaVanchy about the importance of building immunity but said that is “a lifetime pursuit,” and changing behaviors today will not give people a great immune system during this pandemic.
Jeremy Roth said he was worried about businesses in the county that may be suffering as people go to nearby counties to avoid the mask order.
“My business is thriving; there’s really no reason for me to be here, but I’m finding a lot of business owners are not speaking up. I know one business here in Cape who has a destination business that markets all over the United States. She’s losing $300,000 a month, and that all started in April, and now its starting to trend again with this mandate.”
Dr. Matt Lacy, associate superintendent of the Jackson R-2 School District, spoke in favor of the mask order – stating that the school would not have been able to open without the use of masks. He thanked the public health center for helping the District put together a plan that will allow schools to be safe.
He spoke of a teacher testing positive for COVID-19 right before summer school started. Because that teacher met unmasked with other teachers, eight teachers had to quarantine.
After that incident, the District has been able to minimize the effect of a teacher getting the virus. “Because we asked our teachers to mask, we didn’t lose the whole staff,” Lacy said.
Public health graduate student Meagan Fornkahl also spoke in front of the board in support of what they are doing, adding that she saw it as her duty to wear a mask to help the community she cares about in its time of need.
Board Chairperson Roland Sanders said he appreciated everything that was said to the board and acknowledged there are several ways to look at the mask order. “I’m one of the people that are most vulnerable to get it, but I’m not wearing this mask for me,” Sanders said. “I’m wearing it for other people.”
The total number of confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in the county passed 1,000 on Aug. 30. Eight county residents have died of the virus. COVID-19 is now the third largest cause of death in the United States, with more than 183,000 people having died of the disease nationwide.
County Director of Emergency Management Mark Winker said on Aug. 27 that the mask order has led to the county having one of the lowest rate of confirmed cases per 1,000 residents in Southeast Missouri.
“All the other counties around us are significantly higher,” Winkler said. None of the surrounding counties has had a mandatory mask order in place.
The Sept. 22 board meeting, where the board will vote on whether to extend the mask order for an additional month, will take place at 10 a.m. at the Osage Centre in Cape Girardeau.