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Columbia council members say future health order unlikely without health department blessing

Opponents of a mask mandate gather in the Columbia City Council chambers Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, before a council vote. Many wore no masks despite a city order requiring them in city buildings.
Opponents of a mask mandate gather in the Columbia City Council chambers Monday, Aug. 9, 2021, before a council vote. Many wore no masks despite a city order requiring them in city buildings.


Several Columbia City Council members said Tuesday that they may not support further local health restrictions without the recommendation of the city's health department.

The city council on Monday rejected a special request to implement a mask mandate on a 3-3 vote. The bill needed six of the council's seven votes to pass on an emergency basis. Columbia/Boone County health director Stephanie Browning said she supported wearing masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but said mandating them could hamper the department's effort to get people vaccinated.

Several council members told ABC 17 News it's unlikely any further health orders come to their consideration unless the health department recommends them. Columbia Mayor Brian Treece said a mask mandate could have his support if it's what the director wanted. Otherwise, he said a debate about mandating masks distracted from discussion to get people vaccinated.

"We know more about this coronavirus now than we did 12 months ago," Treece said. "More importantly, I think the public knows how the protect themselves. We need to stay focused on vaccinations."

Second Ward Councilwoman Andrea Waner, who voted for the mandate, said she was not aware of any plans to bring a mask mandate for a vote later. City ordinances prohibit the council from voting on a bill that it had defeated just 90 days earlier. However, a council member could make a motion to reconsider the issue at a council meeting. That would need four votes to pass, then a weekslong process of getting the bill prepared and put on a council agenda.

"I look to our local public health officials and the CDC to provide the recommendations and guidance we might need as we continue to navigate through the delta variant and beyond," Waner said. "My focus going forward is going to be on vaccine uptake and encouraging community members to take advantage of all the opportunities to get vaccinated in Boone County."

More than 86,000 people in Boone County have completed vaccination against COVID-19, amounting to 47.7% of the county. The health department reported 119 people in county hospitals as of Monday, with 28 of them being county residents. Twenty-eight of the 119 are in intensive care. New cases have reached levels seen in the winter, before vaccines were widely available.

Fifth Ward Councilman Matt Pitzer and Sixth Ward Councilwoman Betsy Peters agreed with the mayor's position. Both voted against a mandate on Monday and said it's unlikely they would support any new health restrictions at this point. Peters said she would support whatever recommendation the health department made, while Pitzer said he would consider what that recommendation was.

"I mostly defer to the health department for recommendations and they've been consistent in saying the best bang for their buck comes from vaccination efforts, as well as encouraging but not requiring mask wearing," Pitzer said. "Now if things got much worse from here and in several weeks, the health department had other recommendations, we'd have to look at the situation then."

Treece said he supported the last mask mandate in 2020 in order to avoid an overrun health care system while vaccines were still in development. Now that vaccines are available, he said he hoped community leaders would promote them.

The city's health orders mandating masks expired in May.

Lucas Geisler

Lucas Geisler anchors the 5 p.m. show for ABC 17 News and reports on the latest news around mid-Missouri at 9 and 10 p.m.


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