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Countywide mask mandate rescinded

Cape Girardeau County’s mask mandate was rescinded by the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center during a virtual meeting on March 8. The center’s board of trustees
replaced the order with a statement that the use of masks is still “strongly recommended” for residents and visitors of Cape Girardeau County.

The mask mandate, which was repealed by a unanimous vote, required face coverings to be worn by all people over the age of nine while they were in county businesses or public spaces.

The order was originally issued last July to slow the spread of COVID-19 and was amended in October to include the requirements needed to repeal the mask mandate. The lifting of the mask order went into effect on Monday at 9:45 a.m.

While face coverings are no longer required in the county, businesses and other governmental entities such as public school districts are still able to require mask wearing on their property.

“Based on what is out there, we still recommend face coverings,” board member Diane Howard said. “So if constituents impose that on their businesses or their governmental entities – whether that be the city or the county or school districts – we are in support of that.”

The board’s decision comes after COVID-19 case counts in the county continue to decrease, with the number of new cases resembling that of last summer. In addition, 20 percent of Cape Girardeau residents have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and more than 11,300 county residents have been fully vaccinated.

Dr. John Russell, Medical Director and Medical Consultant with the public health center, said the county has seen a decrease in hospitalizations. He said this might be due to the increased use of monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19 patients, as well as the county’s vaccination efforts.

Russell added that even though the county has a similar case count as the beginning of July 2020, much has changed during the last eight months – including knowledge about the virus and disease.

“This is not to say that we are going to see an end of SARS-CoV-2 infection, nor are we going to see the end of COVID,” Russell said. “They are both going to be with us for a while.” He stated that the impact of COVID-19 variants and mutations is still unknown at this time, though early testing by vaccine manufacturers against these variants has been positive.

Russell stated that businesses and schools may still be required to mandate mask wearing – due to new recommendations from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). He said both are now recommending face coverings to provide a safe working environment and to operate in-person schooling, respectively.

“If a store says you have to wear a mask to enter, we respect that and the public should respect that and put a mask on – that’s a store’s individual decision,” board member John Freeze said. “Many chains like Walmart have a nationwide policy on masks.”
Freeze added that there are still several mask mandates, including from the federal government. “There is a federal mask mandate, so I’m sure the local federal court will have a mask mandate there,” he said.

More than 50 people attended the Zoom meeting Monday morning when the vote occurred. The Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center Board of Trustees will hold its regular monthly board meeting on March 23.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at

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