The Columbia city council passed an ordinance requiring people in the city to use masks. The ordinance passed six to one and takes effect this Friday at 5 p.m. It requires everyone age ten and up to use a face mask any time they might come into contact with someone they don’t live with, with a handful of exemptions.
People with medical conditions preventing the use of a mask aren’t required to wear one, and there are other exemptions for outdoor activities, among others.
Public health and human services director Stephanie Browning highlighted the rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county as support for the ordinance.“Well, if people were universally wearing masks, that would definitely be a decrease," Browning said. "I mean, you see that countries like Japan and China where they do wear masks, yes they are opening back up - because they wear masks.”
Browning also said her department wasn't consistently meeting its contact tracing goals, and that it hasn't received any of the federal funds distributed to help localities respond to COVID-19. Browning said her department is accepting volunteers to help with contact tracing, and she said anyone interested in helping can contact the city, or her office directly.
Fifth ward council member Matt Pitzer was the only nay vote, and he raised concerns about the ordinance’s 90-day time span.
The ordinance does not apply to property owned by the state or federal government, and also exempts county buildings including the courthouse. The ordinance says people can remove their masks under the following conditions:
- While outdoors when able to maintain a distance of at least six feet from others
- While exercising outdoors
- When engaged in a sporting activity
- While at home and exclusively in the presence of members of their own household; provided however, the wearing of a Face Mask shall be required in all common areas of any multifamily structure
- When in a vehicle and exclusively with members of their own household
- While eating or drinking only when inside or in the outside dining area of a restaurant or other establishment that offers food or beverage service, 5 provided that person is able to maintain a distance of at least six feet from persons seated at other tables, and provided this distance restriction is enforced by the restaurant or other establishment;
- When an individual has a medical condition, mental health condition or disability that prevents wearing a Face Mask;
- When any party to a communication is deaf or hard of hearing and not wearing a Face Mask is essential to communication
- While obtaining a service that requires temporary removal of the Face Mask, such as dental examinations
- When necessary to confirm the individual's identity
- When federal or state law prohibits wearing a Face Mask or requires the removal of a Face Mask
- When requested by a law enforcement officer
- When requested by a medical provider, including emergency response personnel
- When in a business/commercial/office setting and not within six feet of any other person; provided however, when moving from place to place in a business location a Face Mask shall be worn
- Under such other circumstances identified in any subsequent order issued by the Director
Browning clarified that like with previous ordinances restricting occupancy in businesses, the mask ordinance will be primarily complaint driven. However, city counselor Nancy Thompson pointed out that the Columbia Police Department also has the authority to enforce the ordinance.
During a lengthy public comment section, the council heard from speakers in favor and against the ordinance. The majority voiced their support for the new rule, including former first ward city council member Ginny Chadwick, and medical professionals.
Speakers who opposed the mask ordinance primarily voiced concerns about what they perceived as government overreach, and they also questioned the effectiveness of simple cloth masks. The CDC issued guidance toward the end of June supporting the public use of masks, which a growing body of research associate with decreased transmission of COVID-19.
While some localities in Missouri have voted down mask requirement ordinances, Kansas City and St. Louis have both passed similar measures.