Cape Girardeau County’s mask mandate was rescinded by the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The mask mandate, which was repealed by a unanimous vote,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.