Three doctors felt the need to take action Monday night.
Drs. Ed Obermark, David Chalk and Robert Halsted each appeared before the Washington City Council to ask that a mask mandate be considered.
Obermark organized the trio, citing concerns with inaction on the issue of a mask mandate from the governor and county commissioners amid rising numbers in the cases of COVID-19.
“These are physicians, peers of mine, and in conversations, the health care community as a whole is concerned,” Obermark said. “The Missouri State Medical Association and the Missouri Nurses Association had sent letters to Gov. (Mike) Parson to support a mandate, so we knew the support was there professionally.”
Obermark said he met no resistance within the health care community to pursuing a citywide mandate.
With numbers rising and knowledge of three ways to help slow the spread of the virus in wearing a mask, social distancing and employing proper hand-washing, Chalk said it made “perfect sense” to lend his support for a mandate.
The number of cases in Franklin County has not risen as dramatically as in other parts of the country, but the doctors are still concerned over the increase. They said Monday if the community waited too long for a mask mandate, it could be too late, and communities around the world which issued a mask mandate early have seen a lower rate of increase.
Chalk said he has received mostly positive feedback since asking for a mandate to be considered.
“By and large, probably 90-10, it’s been very supportive, both from the community and professional colleagues,” he said. “More on social media, there are folks that don’t feel it is necessary.”
Chalk said he would be open to speaking before the council again in favor of a mandate if asked or if he felt he had more to add to the debate.
An ordinance to require masks was on the agenda for a special meeting of the Union Board of Aldermen Monday, but no vote was taken after a large turnout of citizens in protest.
Washington council members were divided on the issue Monday as they debated drafting an ordinance to require masks.
“I think if the ordinance is brought forward, the councilmen that have been elected should vote with the best information that has been brought before them,” Chalk said.
Councilmen Steve Sullentrup and Jeff Patke remain against passing a mandate.
“I’m hoping that there’s another consideration that we can do other than a mandate to make everybody happy,” Sullentrup said. “I believe in the masks. I think people should wear them. I just don’t think the city should be telling people that they have to wear them.”
Sullentrup said the public needs to remember to wash its hands properly and maintain a social distance and not just focus on the masks.
Patke said the city is looking into other means to combat the spread of COVID-19, potentially through a public service campaign.
“I’m not opposed to masks,” Patke said. “I’m just opposed to a mandate. I feel that some of those in favor of a mandate are a bit hypocritical if they’re not doing it themselves.”
The doctors’ comments Monday did not change Patke’s position.
“You have to listen to what they say,” Patke said. “They’re medical professionals, but I would find a doctor that would refute that and say the other side about how masks can be harmful. Everybody has an opinion and I respect them.”
Council members Joe Holtmeier, Gretchen Pettet and Mark Wessels are among those in favor of having a mandate drafted.
“I know there’s also been talk of doing a public service campaign,” Wessels said. “That’s a good idea too, and I think a policy would be a good idea as well.”
Wessels said his vote would depend on what’s included in the ordinance, but he leaned in favor of passing a mandate.
Greg Skornia, who was absent from Monday’s meeting, said he would likely vote in favor of a mask ordinance.
“I’m really torn on having a mandate, but I think it needs to be done,” Skornia said. “I don’t know how we could enforce it or what the specifics would be. If it comes up to a vote, I’m probably going to vote yes. If people aren’t going to protect themselves, you have to force them to protect themselves and other people.”
Skornia said if the number of cases were going down, then there would be a viable argument that a mandate was an overreaction.
“We’re not winning this battle,” he said. “We’re losing ground. The numbers are going in the wrong direction. I’m sorry to have to do this, but if people were wearing masks, I wouldn’t do it.”
Mayor Sandy Lucy said the council has another week to consider what course to take and no decision needs to be reached right now.
“We had some sample ordinances,” Lucy said. “ (City Administrator) Darren (Lamb) and (Emergency Management Coordinator) Mark Skornia have reviewed those ordinances and cleaned them up a bit. There were a few things in those we didn’t feel were appropriate and we have sent those on to our city attorney for review.”
Lucy said the majority of comments she received about a potential mask ordinance were against it.
“We’re looking at options,” she said. “We certainly don’t want to do anything that will hurt our businesses, but at the same time we have to be aware of these numbers and nobody wants another shutdown.”
The council next meets Aug. 3 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers of city hall.