City urged to consider mask mandate
A special meeting of the Concordia city commission for the purpose of taking action on a resolution supporting public health efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within in the community evolved into a discussion on a possible city-wide mask mandate.
During the time offered for public comments on the proposed resolution, several individuals spoke in favor of the commission implementing a mask mandate in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
Speaking during the public comments, Cloud County Health Department administrator Brandi Bray reported to the commission that a second COVID-19 related death has been reported in Cloud County.
Bray said the individual was a male over the age of 80 with underlying health conditions.
“We were deeply saddened to share this, that another resident of Cloud County has died of COVID-19,” Bray said. “This was an unexpected death. It was not something we were foreseeing. Our deepest condolences go out to his family, friends and loved ones.”
Through the first 10 days of November, Cloud County has recorded a monthly high of 150 COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number since March to 339.
“We have to understand this is not the time to let our guard down. With Cloud County in the red, we are considered community spread,” Bray said.
Bray said that the Health Department continues to investigate and contact all confirmed COVID-19 cases and their close contacts, but is getting stretched thin.
“We are having a very difficult time keeping up,” Bray said.
The commission unanimously approved the resolution supporting public health efforts to mitigate disease spread within the community.
The Concordia Unified School District 333 board of education and the Cloud County board of commissioners approved adopting the resolution during meetings on Monday.
The Cloud County Community College board of trustees, the Cloud County Health Center board and the CloudCorp board will also be asked to adopt the resolution.
The motion to adopt the resolution made by commissioner Chuck Lambertz also called for city manager Amy Lange to draft language for a COVID mitigation ordinance, that could include mandating the wearing of face coverings, for consideration by the commission during the November 18 meeting.
“It is not so much a mask mandate, but a COVID mitigation approach,” Lambertz said. “I think mask mandate, in that title, has become a point of contention. When really what we are wanting to do, is if people don’t do what they need to do, is set forth the guidelines that we believe are the most helpful in slowing the spread of this illness.”
Prior to voting on the resolution, Lange presented the commission information on why it was important to do so.
Lange touched on the impact the rising virus numbers is having on Cloud County Health Center, local businesses and schools and operation of the city.
“We do need to be proactive. We need to take action to flatten the curve to support our local schools and our local businesses so we can retain jobs, so we can retain availability of goods and services we have become accustomed to. And we need to retain that sales tax revenue so that the city, the county can provide all of those services that people expect of our local governments,” Lange said. “Again, this evening we are not asking for a mask mandate, we are asking for the commission to take a formal public position in response to the current COVID-19 surge by passing this resolution to support public health efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus.”
During comments by the commissioners, Christy Hasch stated that she would favor a mask mandate.
“Honestly, the way things are going, I think this resolution is too little, too late. I am happy to pass this resolution. I really think we need to consider a mandate,” Hasch said.
Commissioner Marsha Wentz also said that she also would favor a mask mandate.
“I think now it is time to step up and pass a mandate. There are ways to enforce it. I just think it is necessary. It is not going away. It does not hurt to wear a mask,” Wentz said.
Lambertz said that philosophically he does not like government telling people what to do, but it may be past the point in the city letting people make the decisions to follow the guidelines for slowing the spread of the virus on their own.
“I don’t like government telling people what to do. I don’t like legislating morality. I am really opposed to that in a philosophical stance. It’s hard for me to debate philosophy when someone who has a heart attack may be laying on a bed for a couple of hours before we can find out where we can get him to a hospital. It’s difficult for me to debate philosophy when we are running out of medical resources,” Lambertz said. “I would also be supportive of taking more stringent efforts as part of a government to put this in place. I don’t like it. I don’t want it, but I’m going to be more comfortable with somebody yelling at me because they have to wear a mask than somebody yelling at me because their loved one wasn’t able to get to a hospital on time.”
Commissioner Keaton Snavely said that he would not back a mask mandate.
“I won’t be for government telling people what they can and cannot do. I do believe it is our right as citizens to do what we feel is right and what we believe is right,” Snavely said.
Mayor Mark Matthew stated that he does not favor implementing a mask mandate, but it may be time to put it to a vote.
“If citizens cannot be responsible, and they cannot take measures themselves to protect themselves and others, then it may be time to discuss it, and it could be discussed and brought to a vote. If somebody doesn’t want to vote for it they don’t have to. If they want to they can,” Matthew said.
Matthew said that masks are just one issue that should be looked at when it comes to slowing the spread of the virus.
“Masks, that is one issue. The other issue is getting people encouraged to take responsibility. If they don’t feel good, stay home. The hygiene part is extremely important. It is scary that there are people that will just go out openly in public when they know they are not feeling well,” Matthew said.
Among those speaking to the commission during public comments was Dr. Dorothy Breault, a physician with the Family Care Center and the county health officer.
Breault said she appreciates the fact that the commission has acknowledged the outbreak in the community and the stress it is putting on the medical staff, facilities and nurses. She said that there were three COVID-19 patients admitted to the hospital, and multiple others had been transferred out.
“This is what we feared. This is what we warned about months and months ago when we requested, not to this body, but requested for the mask mandate for the county in the past,” Breault said. “I appreciate the resolution, but I think it really does nothing different than what has been done before. I think now is the time to take action, and this resolution does not take action.”
Breault said that she believes it is going to be necessary to do a mask mandate very soon.
“I don’t know how many more people have to die, or how many hospitalizations we have to have or transfers that we can’t do and people die of a heart attack or stroke because of no availability. If we want to stop the transmission we have to have a mask mandate. You said it yourself, you want people to continue to work and do their jobs and keep businesses open, so do that safely with masks.”
Also speaking during the public comments, Carmen Brady said that as a citizen she is concerned and frustrated with the lack of leadership by the commission. She said that the role of the commission is not to be popular but to make the community as safe and secure as possible, and it has failed to do that.
“Time and time again public health officials have said that masks best protect other people, not the person wearing it. Personal freedom is making a bad choice like smoking a cigarette in private. Masks are like helping mitigate second-hand smoke. You are watching people blow smoke into the faces of non-smokers and saying that is the smoker’s choice.” Brady said, “If overrun hospitals cannot treat or transfer patients, those patients have had their freedom diminished. If health care workers are pulling overtime, or getting sick and are being ridiculed for doing the right thing, their pursuit of happiness has been taken away.”
Connor Thrash, a Concordia High School student, said that he has contracted COVID-19, has never felt that poorly before.
Thrash also said that we have every opportunity to prevent the spread of the virus and save lives.
“We have the facts laid out for us on the table. Our doctors, our nurses and our health care professionals here in Concordia are begging us to listen to them. These are our friends and our neighbors who are risking their lives to study and treat this deadly disease. And they are working tirelessly to treat our hurting community and find a way to prevent the spread. But they can’t do it alone. Who are we that we are ignoring these heroes who are trying to get us to hear them? They are doing their best, but it really requires us as a community, and our participation, to fully stop this spread,” Thrash said.
Harvey Jones said that if the commission can’t mandate masks it shouldn’t be running the city.
“There is proof that masks help,” Jones said.
Scott Longfellow said that it is his observation that wearing masks is helpful and can be a useful defense against the disease.
“It takes courage to lead people to do something they don’t want to do. I don’t know you folks, and I am not suggesting you haven’t done that yet, but we are at a precipice of a situation where we need to have very strong leadership. And what I would say is, let's have the courage to lead,” Longfellow said.