Columbia became the latest city in Missouri to enact a mandatory face mask order to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, requiring masks to be worn by people who are 10 and older in all public spaces and, in some instances, private dwellings.
The Columbia City Council passed an emergency measure Monday night that enacts the requirements for up to 90 days, with the ability to shorten or extend the order at the discretion of the council. The measure goes into place at 5 p.m. on Friday.
In addition to requiring masks in public, the city will require residents and their guests to wear masks when gatherings are held with anyone that does not reside in that household.
There are some exemptions to the order, including allowances for the removal of masks while actively eating, drinking, exercising or playing sports. Face masks can be removed indoors when a person remains in one place and is separated by at least six feet from another person. This could be in a restaurant or an office space where others are seated at least six feet away. However, the mask must be worn when moving from that area.
Additionally, face masks do not have to be worn by those with medical conditions, in cars or at home with members of their household. Also exempted are people who are outside and maintaining a distance of 6 feet from others. Additionally, law enforcement and medical professionals can ask people to remove their masks.
This is enforced by fines of $15 for individuals and $100 for businesses that do not follow the ordinance. Additionally, businesses are asked to provide their employees with face masks and can be fined $100 per employee not wearing a mask.
The order will be largely enforced by the health department, but it does not mean that the Columbia Police Department cannot help in enforcement.
“I see enforcement continuing to be complaint-based, like we are doing now,” said Stephanie Browning, director of Health and Senior Services for Columbia and Boone County. “Our goal will always be to educate first.”
At the time of the meeting on Monday evening, Boone county had 512 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 166 currently active and 414 people in quarantine.
Contact tracing efforts
At Monday’s council meeting, Browning brought attention to the four criteria that had to be in place to begin reopening businesses, which include the availability of testing, necessary hospital capacity, the ability to isolate and quarantine and sufficient contact tracing. The city has fulfilled all but one of these, which is adequate contact tracing.
“Sadly, I am not able to tell you that we’re maintaining our goal of having case investigations complete and contacts identified in 24 hours,” Browning said.
The city currently has 20 contact tracers working on a volunteer basis. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend having 30 tracers per 100,000 people, meaning that Columbia would require about 54 in order to adequately trace all possible contacts with the coronavirus.
Currently, the health department does not have funding to hire any additional contact tracers, as the current workforce is composed entirely of volunteers. However, there is the possibility of assistance from the county.