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Columbia's Mask Ordinance Is Having A Positive Impact

Data trends suggest the city’s mask ordinance is having the desired effect — reversing the upward trend in the rate of infection in Columbia.

The positivity rate in Boone County increased sharply from 1.3% the week of June 5-11 to 15.7% June 26-July 2.

The positivity rate reached its peak, so far, of 16% the week of July 3-9, according to the COVID-19 Information Hub.

During the week after the mandate took effect, July 10-16, the positivity rate fell to 6.2%.

Last week, July 17-23, the positivity rate increased slightly to 7.2%, according to the information hub.

“If you look in that time frame, nothing else really changed,” said Ashton Day, health educator with the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services. “We were still under the same public health order, and the mask mandate was the only thing that was different about regulation wise for COVID-19.”

In a statement Monday, Mayor Brian Treece acknowledged the positive impact of the mask mandate, which he strongly supported.

“Widespread mask usage in Columbia has helped slow the spread of COVID-19. The positivity rate has been cut in half,” Treece said.

The mask ordinance requires everyone age 10 and older to wear face masks when around people outside their household in both public and private settings.

A person can be fined $15 for not wearing a mask, and businesses can be fined $100 for each employee without a mask, according to previous Missourian reporting.

No complacency

Although the positivity rate has declined, it’s still higher than the 5% public health officials consider to be safe, according to the news release Monday from the Health Department announcing the data.

“We are hopeful that more people wearing masks will help lower our rates of infection, but it’s important to continue all other efforts to remain COVID aware, including social distancing to the greatest extent possible, regularly washing your hands and staying home if you are sick,” said Stephanie Browning, the director of the Health Department.

Day said that wearing a mask is not an absolute guarantee, and people should “do all the layers of defense to prevent the spread of the virus.”

The Health Department is working closely with the Office of Neighborhood Services to educate people and businesses that are not following the mask ordinance.

If it’s a repeated offense, or a business hasn’t done their best to promote mask usage — which includes posting signage, asking customers to wear masks upon entering and requiring employees to wear masks in the facility — a notice of violation is the next step, Day said.

As of July 22, three local businesses, including Willie’s Pub & Pool, the Country Club of Missouri and Truman’s Bar & Grill, had been issued “notices of violation,” according to a previous Missourian story.

Long-term effects

Around 58% of all COVID-19 cases in Boone County have occurred in people under age 30, who are less likely to be hospitalized or at risk of dying from the virus, according to the city of Columbia.

However, the long-term effects are still unknown.

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that it may take a long time for people, including healthy young adults, to recover from COVID-19.

“According to the study, one in five people between the ages of 18-34 years old with no chronic medical conditions did not return to their usual state of health 14-21 days after testing positive,” according to the release.

This study shed light on the importance of everyone, including those who are less likely to be at risk of severe illness, to follow social distancing, wash hands regularly and comply with the mask ordinance, according to the release.

“We expect to learn more about the long-term effects of the virus as time goes on, but this is an important first look at how our younger community may be affected long after they are released from isolation and no longer considered contagious,” Browning said.

Treece urged the community to stay the course: “If everyone continues to help slow the spread — wash your hands, maintain physical distancing, wear a mask — I hope these positive results can continue.”