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story.lead_photo.caption Fulton resident Elizabeth Williams speaks against a potential mask ordinance for Fulton. There was an even split between those who spoke for and against an ordinance Tuesday night, though judging by applause, those who were against an ordinance made up much of the audience in the room. Photo by Helen Wilbers / Fulton Sun.

Tuesday evening's forum on whether Fulton should make mask-wearing mandatory brought passionate arguments from people on both sides of the issue.

Ultimately, members of the Fulton City Council did not request that a mask ordinance be drafted, citing claims from the Callaway County Health Department and the Fulton Police Department that neither entity has the manpower necessary to enforce such an ordinance (bit.ly/2D1GOPt).

Instead, City Council members made a unanimous motion to issue a recommendation that Fulton residents wear masks in public. Some confusion about the nature of that motion occurred Tuesday evening, with Mayor Lowe Cannell stating the motion was for the city to ask the county to issue such a recommendation. The city clarified the issue Wednesday in a news release.

"We went back and looked up the video — there were more than 14 minutes (of discussion) between when the motion was made and the time the vote was taken," Director of Administration Bill Johnson said of the confusion's origin.

Fulton's administration will approach the county, and potentially other area cities, about issuing a joint resolution recommending wearing masks. That resolution, which will formalize Tuesday's motion, should be drafted and ready for a vote by the July 28 meeting.

"I greatly support the city making a strong recommendation for the citizens of Fulton," Ward 2 council member Jeff Stone said during Tuesday's meeting. "I work in a hospital. I work with patients that have this virus. I'm wearing a mask this evening to protect you because I spent time with people who have this virus, and this virus does kill. This virus also exacerbates many other conditions that will kill you."

Though the council opted against drafting and voting on a mask ordinance at this time, several City Council members left the door open to revisiting the issue should cases continue to climb.

"We have to have a trigger, what's going to trigger us to go to the next level, if this rises to a certain level," Bob Washington, of Ward 4, said.

With the issue likely to arise again in the future — COVID-19 cases are trending upward in the county and the state of Missouri — let's look at what people who oppose and support a mask ordinance have to say.

The debate

The Callaway Chamber of Commerce conducted a survey of its 400-plus members to take their temperature on the mask issue. Of the 93 members who responded, Chamber Executive Director Tamara Tateosian said businesses are split: About 57 percent oppose a mandatory mask ordinance, while about 43 percent favor one.

"But when you read through the comments, which I read through, probably 90 percent of them — a lot of them had to be the same ones who voted against it — but they're saying something has to be done," Ward 3's John Braun said. "And what that something is, I don't know."

Fulton residents had to sign up in advance to speak during the public comment period, and more than a dozen did so. Each resident was given four minutes, and the city alternated between hearing remarks from those against a mask ordinance and those in favor. To view the entire Tuesday meeting, visit bit.ly/39ol10z.

Speakers included business owners on both sides of the divide.

Virginia McCoskrie, owner of the downtown business Smockingbird's, spoke in favor. She cited a rapid increase in cases following the Fourth of July holiday. From July 13-20, the CCHD reported 20 new cases of the disease in the county.

McCoskrie said that if rising cases force another shutdown of nonessential businesses, many small businesses in Fulton will suffer. That includes her own business, which makes 40 percent of its revenues — and thus collects 40 percent of its annual sales tax money for the city — in the fourth quarter.

"It's true that the initial message from the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) was not to wear (masks)," she said. "But as the pandemic progressed, it became clear that a person without symptoms could infect another person simply with their breath. At that point, the message changed."

She and other speakers pointed to recent research demonstrating the efficacy of masks. One study cited was The Lancet's recent review of 172 studies into various protective measures, including masks and physical distancing. The journal found face coverings and masks may protect health care workers and the general public against infection with COVID-19 — though even in conjunction with other precautions, such as physical distancing, that protection wasn't perfect (bit.ly/39ol10z).

Speakers opposing the issue claimed homemade and surgical masks aren't effective at preventing virus particles from passing through.

"Last week, I began requiring my customers to wear masks," McCoskrie said. "With very few exceptions, all complied. The people who refused and left the shop were not people I'd ever seen before."

She said she provided disposable masks to shoppers as needed.

Kirt Kleindienst, owner of 54 Country, thinks a mask ordinance would spell doom for his dances. Kleindienst previously appeared at the July 14 Fulton City Council meeting, where he vowed 54 Country wouldn't comply with a mask ordinance (bit.ly/2ZBl1Y4).

"I'd like to apologize for the tone with which I ended (at) last week's meeting," Kleindienst said while opening his remarks. "I am concerned that a mask ordinance could have and would have serious affects on our business at 54 Country, to the extent that it could put us out of business."

He did not specify how a mask ordinance would harm the venue. Kleindienst said his business brings more than 10,000 people to the community annually, and socializing during 54 Country's dances and concerts benefits locals' mental health.

"Businesses have already started putting mandates in place, such as Walmart, Target and countless other businesses around the county have started doing it on their own, without being mandated," Kleindienst said. "Let the businesses decide."

Speakers on both sides of the issue invoked rights.

"This is the USA — it's a democracy," Sandra Dreyer said. "We have the freedom of choice, so let each individual decide."

She asked if the city would mandate and enforce other preventative measures, such as physical distancing and hand-washing. Michele Krueger made a similar point.

"Are police going to set up mask traps instead of speed traps?" she asked.

Bill Guinee, a former Westminster College professor, noted "with every right, we also have responsibilities." Governments often make legal requirements focused on ensuring people behave responsibly around others, such as installing stop signs or banning public nudity, he said. While Fulton residents had the opportunity to choose to wear a mask, a large number did not do so, Guinee argued.

"The tiny right of not covering up my face is easily trumped by my responsibility not to kill anyone," he said. "I would argue that if we don't come up with a mandate or sometime the next time someone dies we have to ask if we were complicit in his or her death."

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