Mask mandate discussion gets heated at aldermen meeting

Steve Chapman

Mt. Vernon alderman Beckley accused of flouting COVID-19 quarantine to attend city board meeting
Discussion of a mask mandate dominated the Mt. Vernon Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday, Nov. 10.
During the citizen participation portion of the meeting, Rebecca Thompson, director of nursing at Lawrence County Manor, requested the board consider creating “a temporary mask mandate” while she spoke to them.
While she spoke, Thompson stated that while there are currently no cases of COVID-19 at the Lawrence County Manor, their residents there are among those who are the most vulnerable to the virus. She pointed out that up to that point, 29 of the 41 deaths which occurred in Lawrence County due to COVID-19, or 70-percent, were residents in long-term care facilities.
Manor staff doing what they can...
Thompson said that the staff at Lawrence County Manor are doing all they can to keep residents safe, but emphasized there was a danger that they could infect residents unknowingly because they have to be in the community outside of the Manor. She pointed out that between the first week of May to the first week of September, there were 417 cases of COVID-19 in Lawrence County, but as of Nov. 10, there were 1,465 confirmed cases, including 41 deaths in the county. (Latest numbers show 1,587 confirmed cases in Lawrence County, including 45 deaths)
“Our residents need us, especially during this time of a lockdown,” she said. “We’re the ones taking care of them, but we’re also the biggest threat, because we’re the ones in the community. No matter what precautions we take, as the rates go up in town, our risk goes up. Even something as simple as being able to get our groceries or go to the gas station, our risk goes up.”
Thompson also said there had to be a change in how the virus was being combated if the spread was going to be slowed, or at least halted.
“What we’re doing is not working,” she said. “We’ve got people in the community getting sick and passing away, and it’s absolutely increasing the risk to us, which in turn increases the risk to our residents. I know that masks are not 100-percent effective, but they do slow the spread; they do make a difference. And I ask that you guys please consider a temporary mask mandate and help us join the fight in protecting our residents; keeping them safe.”
 Hull against mask mandate…
John Hull, owner of Screen Masters in Mt. Vernon, spoke against the idea of a mandate, stating, “I don’t see how that will help.”
“Our shop is open to anybody,” he said. “If you come in with a mask, we’re going to make you feel at home. We’re going to keep social distancing; we’re going to do everything in our power to keep you safe. And I think that’s all the community can do, or expect to do.”
Also speaking against the mandate was Rev. Steve Hicks, pastor of the Church in Action. Hicks expressed concern that if the city imposed a mandate that the county might do so as well, and questioned whether a mask mandate might lead to other mandates, such as a limit on the size of crowds. He also said there was a lot of inconsistency in how mandates are enforced.
“I think the more our government officials can stay out of that, the better we’re all going to be,” he said.
The discussion continued later during the meeting, but the board took no action on the proposed mandate.
Beckley accused of not quarantining
Face masks were not the only topic of discussion. Prior to the discussion of a mask mandate, Penny Lewsader, administrator at the Lawrence County Manor, criticized Alderman Scott Beckley for his presence at the meeting, stating he was supposed to be on quarantine.
“He is my employee at the nursing home,” she said. “He’s supposed to be on quarantine because his wife tested positive for COVID last week.” (Beckley is the maintenance supervisor at Lawrence County Manor, according to the facility’s website)
Beckley replied that Lewsader must have not been in contact with the Lawrence County Health Department, because his wife was no longer on quarantine.
“Well, you’re being paid for it, and you haven’t told us anything else,” Lewsader responded.
Mayor Jason Haymes then said it sounded like Lewsader was speaking about a personnel matter and requested that the discussion be kept to the board as a whole.
During a later discussion of the mask mandate, Alderman Marda Gramm criticized Lewsader for speaking about Beckley during the meeting.
“You shamed him for that, and I’m just up to here with it,” she said, adding that she was tired of public shaming.
Haymes then asked Beckley if he was positive for the virus. Beckley said he was not, and added that he had been tested for the virus twice weekly at the Manor for as long as the twice-weekly tests had been administered.
Lewsader confirmed that Beckley had not tested positive for the virus, but then continued to criticize him for being present at the meeting.
“He called to me last Tuesday and said he can’t come to work,” she said, “because the policy is if someone in your household has tested positive, which his wife had tested positive at her doctor’s office, then he’s on quarantine for 14 days. His 14 days is next Monday, (Nov. 16). I think … it’s very disrespectful, as an alderman, to be at a public place when he’s on quarantine from his job, and he’s getting paid for it.”
In other business…
The board passed an ordinance authorizing the election of an alderman for each of the wards for a two-year term. The election will be held on April 6, 2021; Mt. Vernon residents wishing to be a candidate for the board can register with the Mt. Vernon City Clerk Melissa Aduddle, between Dec. 15 and Jan. 19.
The board also voted to approve the replacement of the whole bundle of hydraulic hoses on the small bucket truck at a cost of $20,000; the bucket truck has a broken hydraulic hose, and to be replaced, the mast must be removed. Additionally, the board voted to retain Cox Health Insurance for the city employees’ health insurance.


Lawrence County Record

312 S. Hickory St.
Mt. Vernon, MO, 65712


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