MARYVILLE, Mo. — The Maryville City Council extended the mask mandate through the end of April by a 3-2 vote Monday, with council members on both sides of the vote calling on the Nodaway County Health Department to take on more of a leadership role.
Mayor Benjamin Lipiec and council member Jason McDowell were the “no” votes, but differed on their reasoning. Lipiec told The Forum that his stance has not changed since November, when he said he believed the choice of whether to wear a mask should be up to each individual, not mandated.
In September, both Lipiec and McDowell voted against extending the mandate, but at the time indicated that they preferred to wait two weeks — when the mandate was closer to expiring — before voting on it to provide more time for data to accumulate. McDowell later voted in favor of an extension in November.
But at the Maryville Community Center on Monday, where the meeting was well-attended despite a snowstorm continuing to bluster outside, McDowell said that it should be the health department’s responsibility to dictate health policy since they are the “lead agency during a pandemic,” and said it is outside the role of the City Council to mandate wearing masks.
“I feel like the numbers are with the health department, vaccines are with the health department, and this needs to go with the health department, too,” McDowell said. “… they’re the health experts, we’re not the health experts. So, my vote is going to be ‘no,’ in hopes that that will help the health department take the lead and be more concise, I guess, with its actions instead of piecemeal it all together.”
Tom Patterson, Nodaway County Health Department administrator, attended Monday’s meeting at the request of council members and offered little wiggle room in his assessment of what his agency was likely to do.
“No, we’re not going to have a mask mandate for the county,” Patterson said when asked directly by council member Rachael Martin. “… Because we’re focused on vaccines, we’re focused straight ahead. What we’re asking our partners and our community to do is just hang on a little longer.”
A countywide mandate would need to be voted on by the Nodaway County Health Department Board of Trustees, but that body rejected such a request from city officials in November. Two new members have joined the board since then, however.
“So, I think we’re in a position where we have to say, what can we do that we know to be effective?” Martin said “And we can continue the mask mandate, and it can be helpful to our community.”
The extension of the citywide mandate was endorsed by the health department, Mosaic Medical Center - Maryville and Northwest Missouri State University, City Manager Greg McDanel said.
“We’re asking our communities, our partners, our organizations big and small, even our individuals, to continue practicing our mitigation efforts,” Patterson said. “There’s no reason to give up now. We’re getting better, we’re getting closer, we have a lot better picture, there’s no reason to quit now.”
Council member Tye Parsons cited that support from local health officials and federal guidance that asks local governments to put in place mask mandates for at least the next 100 days in explaining why he voted “yes.”
“We’ve heard from Tom that Nodaway County public health recommends the continuance of the mask mandate for the city of Maryville,” Parsons said. “We’ve also heard from Tom that they’re not going to mandate it for the county — whatever that reason is, they’re not going to mandate it for the county.
“So, I’m not elected by the county. I’m elected by the citizens of Maryville, and so it’s my responsibility as an elected official to do what’s right for the city of Maryville, and that is to extend the mask mandate.”
The extension runs through 11:59 p.m. on April 30.
Health department support
Parsons was not the only council member to suggest during Monday’s meeting that the health department has not been visible enough in its support for specific mitigation measures, like mask mandates.
Although the health department supported the mask mandate’s passage in July and each subsequent extension, local public health leaders have rarely voiced their direct preference for a specific action — like a mask mandate — in public meetings concerning any other governing bodies in Nodaway County, not just Maryville.
With state officials leaving response largely up to municipal governments as well, it has left the City Council as the primary local target of ire from those who do not support the mask mandate — and the past three meetings have been held at the community center to accommodate the larger number of attendees who oppose the mandate.
Monday, McDowell said that he believes decisions about mitigation measures like mask mandates should be the health department’s responsibility, not the council’s, and indicated the health department should be taking the lead instead. He had previously voted for the original mandate in July and an extension in November.
The City Council remains the only governing body in the county — other than some school boards — to enact a continuous mask mandate, acting on the advice of local public health officials.
“I don’t want to downplay the work that your office has done at all, because the people who work there, I know they’re making difficult phone calls on a daily basis,” Martin told Patterson. “I know that they’re getting bombarded in public with questions during a confusing time.
“But when we look at who could partner with us and help us with this burden, I just … really wish that you would stand with us, to put yourself out there and say, ‘Let’s mandate masks. They help people. We’re saving people. It’s effective.’”
“We did stand with you, we did support you,” Patterson responded.
During a pointed grilling of Patterson, Martin questioned why, after Patterson said that wearing masks would help slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep residents safer, he would not recommend a countywide mandate to try and increase health safety across the board.
“If you look at our situation, where is the population?” Patterson said. “It’s in Maryville. Maryville is the only common denominator. … Most people that come into Nodaway County, they come here, that’s why it’s an effective practice to do that here. It doesn’t make much sense in rural areas that are less populated.”
But council members have expressed concern in the past that because many from outside the city limits who come to Maryville frequently aren’t required to wear masks in the outlying county, the spread of COVID-19 within city limits would continue without more focus on a countywide push for wearing masks.
“I just wanted to share with you how frustrating it is to be in this position, and have someone else who also could be advocating the way that I feel I am — and choosing not to,” Martin told Patterson.
Patterson reiterated to the council on Monday that although his office collects the necessary data, it does not keep discrete records of where COVID-19 cases originate. City-specific data has been a frequent request of members of the public who have attended City Council meetings over the past several weeks, and council members themselves have previously said they would like that data as well to better track where outbreaks occur.
But Patterson said the health department doesn’t have the staffing resources to go back through and report city-specific cases.
“Because we’re a county (entity), we track county numbers, so like, we don’t track Skidmore’s cases, Elmo’s cases, you know,” Patterson said. “If we were asked that, with some time, we could probably figure that out, because we do know where people are, we have the demographic data. But we just track it in blocks … as a county.”
Patterson has offered the council some event-specific data before, however. In November, Martin cited Patterson as saying that many cases of COVID-19 were coming from exposures during youth sports, prompting the creation of a committee to study best practices for sporting events. During a health department meeting that same month, Patterson indicated that data was anecdotal, not precise.
Opposition to extension
Several residents spoke against extending the mandate during the public hearing segment of Monday’s meeting, citing debunked theories and unfounded claims, continuing a pattern in recent months that has seen increased pressure on the council — vocally in meetings and by some on social media — to end the mask mandate despite recommendations from health officials to continue it.
During the regular meeting, as the vote approached and it became clearer the measure would pass, several in attendance sought to speak once again, but were denied because the public hearing portion had ended about an hour earlier.
“We got two minutes, and I didn’t get through anything,” said Zak Moore, a Northwest Missouri State University student. “… Should the beliefs of the few decide the fate of the many?”
Council member Matt Johnson, a history instructor at Northwest, said that wasn’t what was happening.
“The system that we have, we have a representative government — the people elect people,” Johnson, who is not seeking re-election when his term is up in April, said. “And in this system, you are elected to make these types of decisions. Not to go back and ask for every opinion on every little thing that has to happen. Or every big thing that has to happen. We have been empowered, rightfully or wrongly in terms of if you regret voting for me or not … to make these types of decisions.
“And are they hard? Yeah, they’re hard. But it isn’t some government that is outside of time and space dictating these things to us. We, the people, are making these decisions, right? Our neighbors are making these decisions. And whether or not you like the fact that we’ve been empowered to do so by the state of Missouri, by the U.S. Constitution, doesn’t really matter. We are here to make these decisions, that’s our responsibility. It’s a representative democracy. You all voted (for) us to represent you and your ideas. If you don’t like how we’ve represented those ideas, don’t vote for us again.”
Other City Council COVID-19 notes
- Lipiec said City Council members received 113 emails from residents about the mask mandate extension vote — 109 in favor of extension and four against.
- Since stricter enforcement began in late November, McDanel said the city has recorded 476 direct contacts at 91 businesses, resulting in 61 warnings and one citation for violations of COVID-19 mitigation measures.
- On Monday, the county shifted to Category 2: Critical Risk on the state’s scale of COVID-19 spread, triggering the loosening of some restrictions.