Johnson County, Missouri, gets rid of face mask mandate, worrying some residents

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HOLDEN, Mo. – At least one county in the region is loosening its position on mandating masks, a decision that has some residents concerned.

Last week, the Johnson County Community Health Services Board of Trustees issued a countywide public health advisory, replacing a face covering order implemented in July. The advisory “strongly recommends” residents wear masks in public places, but they are no longer required.

“The counties around us are keeping the mandates, and I don’t understand why they’ve chosen to let it go here,” said Melody Barker, who lives in Holden, Missouri.

Barker said even when the face covering order was in place, many people in her small town didn’t follow the rules. She fears the number of confirmed coronavirus cases will start to increase.

As of Monday, the county reported 1,092 confirmed cases; more than 400 of them remain active.

“It’s not just a mask or face covering that’s going to slow the spread,” said Kerri Lewis, the outreach coordinator for Johnson County Community Health Services. “It’s a layered approach.”

Lewis said the drastic increase in the number of confirmed cases is linked to college-age adults. The county is home to the University of Central Missouri, which had 76 known active cases as of Monday evening.

“When we remove them from the mix, our numbers were very low again, very manageable,” Lewis said.

She said the advisory encourages residents to take personal responsibility for their actions. She said the virus still needs to be taken seriously, but for a mask mandate to truly be effective, the entire state of Missouri needs to have one.

“If this is something that can be implemented statewide, so we’re all kind of following the same rules, that might make it easier for everyone to move forward,” she said.

For Barker, who lives with a lung condition, the county’s position is too laxed.

“We need to use the tools we have to try and help the doctors and keep people safe as long as we can,” she said.

“All public locations are encouraged to implement specific safety precautions to continue mitigating the risk to employees and visitors,” according to a press release from Lewis.

The health advisory will stay in place until the state emergency within Missouri is “retracted or until deemed necessary to replace with additional forms of safety precautions.”

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