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Should masks be mandated like seatbelts? Elected officials debate mask ordinances


As Missouri continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, community mask mandates remain a controversial and divisive topic.

St. Francois County Clerk Kevin Engler and St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones appeared on Sunday’s episode of “This Week in Missouri Politics” to debate mask mandates. While the elected officials agreed that masks and other precautions could be useful deterrents, they outlined the different reactions their communities had to ordinances.   

Jones said her community expected leadership to lead by example, and the state had not done a good enough job at it. 

“This is about keeping people safe,” she said. “Study after study have shown that when a majority of people wear masks, there’s a slowdown on the rate of transmission in this disease. We want to keep people safe and keep them alive and make sure they survive for themselves and their children and generations beyond.”

She said transmission rates have decreased in areas with mask orders, comparing it to when transportation officials first recommended the use of seatbelts.

Engler discussed the recently passed mask ordinance in St. Francois County that was quickly reconsidered after community backlash. He said many county officials were wary about the social impact of the requirement in a rural county. 

“There’s got to be reasonable alternatives; I agree with [the] premise earlier that we should encourage it, we show it, because a vast majority of the people in our area are against it and it’s unenforceable,” he said. “It’s going to cause arguments between people. We don’t need people fighting each other. We need people to try to respect each other and try to use these means.”   

Elections and COVID-liability

Carpenters Union Political Director Mark Dalton, Braxton Payne of The Kelley Group, and state Reps. Donna Baringer and Jim Murphy joined this week’s discussion panel to continue the conversation on COVID-19 and its effect on the election season in the wake of Gov. Mike Parson’s positive test.

“What this goes to show is that no one is safe from this, as in you can get it no matter where you go in the state of Missouri,” Baringer said. “What [Nicole Galloway] is doing when she’s in all those counties, she is social distancing and wearing a mask. She’s showing that health care should come first, not the politics.”

The panel also covered the impacts of the virus on communities and schools and the likelihood of a COVID liability law coming up in the Missouri Legislature. 

“The governor’s been talking about doing a special [session] on it, and we absolutely have to,” Murphy said. “My daughter’s a teacher, and I certainly don’t want her sued by a student who gets COVID. It’s time we get kids back in school and listen to the science.” 

Watch the full episode of This Week in Missouri Politics below. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: For up-to-date information on coronavirus, check with the CDC and DHSS.