Phelps County Commission orders mask mandate

    The Phelps County Commission voted 2-1 on Tuesday to implement a mask mandate to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Presiding Commissioner Randy Verkamp and District #1 Commissioner Larry Stratman voted for the order and District #2 Commissioner Gary Hicks was opposed. The order will go into effect Monday, November 30.

    The order highlights the infectious nature and public safety concerns from the Phelps/Maries County Health Department and rising number of positive cases of COVID-19 in the area as the reason for the mandate, which will order everyone over the age of 11 to wear a mask while in public.
    “This order intends to institute standards for the requirements of face coverings when in a public space, with the goal to ensure people protect themselves and others, particularly those who are vulnerable to poorer outcomes related to COVID-19 infection,” the order states.
    According to the order, face coverings must be worn by anyone over the age of 11 for:
    • Anyone, including employees or visitors, present at any business of public space.
    • Anyone outdoors in a public space when anyone other than members of their household or living unit are within six feet of each other.
    • All persons over the age of 11 attending a gathering of individuals who are not members of their household in any area, which will not necessarily involve close contact or proximity to others when six feet of separation is not feasible.
    Children under three are not required to wear a mask under the order. Children between three and 11 are encouraged to wear a mask when out of the household, but is not required. Residents who have health conditions that prohibit the wearing of a mask are also not required to wear a mask when it would be “contrary to their health or safety because of a medical condition.” Those who are hearing impaired, “where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication,” are also exempt from the order.
    For residents who are visiting a local restaurant, masks are not a requirement when consuming food while adequately distanced from others. Other exemptions include those playing sports, those in a public pool while in the water, those who are obtaining a service involving the nose or face where temporary removal of the mask is necessary to perform the service, and those exercising or using exercise equipment.
    Businesses and other entities that provide public spaces must post facemask requirements at their facility and the order authorizes businesses to deny entry to the public for those not complying with the face covering mandate.
    “Failure to comply with a public health order designed to ‘prevent the entrance of infectious, contagious, communicable, or danger diseases’ into Phelps County is enforceable and punishable under Missouri law. The Phelps County Prosecuting Attorney can seek emergency injunction relief or other civil relief to enforce any provision of this order,” the order states. Noncompliance by businesses could disqualify those businesses from future financial relief.
    It also gives the health department the ability to seek civil and criminal penalties as well as giving the department the authority to “establish appropriate control measures to prevent or control the spread of the infectious disease, including isolation, quarantine, disinfection, and closure of establishments in the interest of public health.” The order establishes the maximum penalty for violation is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable with a fine up to $1,000.
    The order will remain in effect until February 2, 2021, or until rescinded by the Phelps County Commission.