Springfield City Council members talk about extending, strengthening mask mandate

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Springfield City Council members will vote on a measure to extend the city’s masking ordinance on Monday, December 14, 2020.

The current ordinance is set to expire on January 9, 2021. If passed, the new ordinance would extend the mandate through April of 2021.

At the City Council lunch held Tuesday, December 8, 2020, Council members heard from local health leaders and discussed possible changes to the ordinance.

Zone 4 Councilman Matthew Simpson said at the meeting he would like to see the ordinance strengthened to tighten exemptions. Simpson said it’s still important to include reasonable accommodations for people who have disabilities and can’t wear a mask. He did say, however, he does not want those exemptions to be abused.

Springfield-Greene County Health Department Director Clay Goddard said he and his team would be looking into Simpson’s concerns. Springfield Mayor Ken McClure said the important move for Council is to extend the ordinance, and that he wants to be on solid ground before tightening exemptions.

Another change that could be coming, but not necessarily written in the ordinance, is how Springfield Police enforce the mask mandate. Springfield City Manager Jason Gage said since the COVID-19 pandemic is moving into a phase that could put pressure on our healthcare system, it’s time to “elevate our enforcement.”

Gage said the city is looking at issuing more citations. Up to this point, the city and Springfield Police Department have been taking a complaint-based approach, and opting to educate, instead of issue citations for violators.

Council members heard from Brent Hubbard, the COO and President of Mercy Springfield, and Steve Edwards, Coxhealth’s President and CEO.

Both leaders shared their support for City Council to extend Springfield’s masking ordinance. Hubbard shared how difficult the pandemic has been on the healthcare staff at Mercy.

Steve Edwards said, “If the whole area was doing what Springfield has done, our losses would be cut in half.” Both leaders said there is a no-tolerance policy for those who won’t wear masks in the hospitals. Both leaders also expressed concerns about capacity and staffing. They said 60% of the time, the hospitals are at capacity, and cannot take patients from neighboring counties.

Both Mercy and Cox continue to work to expand the number of beds available, but say without staff, they can’t care for patients.

Hubbard, Edwards, and Goddard warned cases of COVID-19 are expected to rise in the coming weeks. They did express hope about vaccines that could be arriving in Missouri later this month.

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