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Missouri jurisdictions divided on requiring face coverings

Leaders of Missouri’s largest metropolitan areas are now requiring face coverings in response to the surge in confirmed coronavirus cases, but many other places across the state are leaving it up to individuals to decide.

Kansas City and Jackson County began requiring face coverings for residents in public earlier this week, and St. Louis city and county leaders on Wednesday announced similar measures. Some other cities and counties are encouraging, but not requiring masks, including Springfield.

“I wear a mask to protect you” Springfield Mayor Ken McClure said Thursday at a news conference. “You wear a mask to protect me.”

Missouri is among several states seeing big increases in confirmed cases of virus that causes COVID-19 since the economy reopened. Since June 16 the state has had no rules on social distancing, though Republican Gov. Mike Parson has repeatedly urged caution and stressed personal responsibility. Adding to the concern is the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, when many people are expected to gather at parties, festivals and fireworks displays.

The state health department has reported nearly 2,900 newly confirmed cases in the past week, including 376 cases and two deaths on Wednesday. The state has seen 21,927 confirmed cases, including 1,017 deaths, since the pandemic began. Hospitalizations also are starting to rise.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

But leaders of many cities and counties are standing firm against any mask mandate.

“When it comes to masks, I have faith that the citizens of St. Charles County will do the right thing without government coercion,” St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann, a Republican, said in a statement. “I will continue to do everything I can to remind our citizens that, along with the freedom to decide, they have a responsibility to protect the health of others by wearing a mask.”

St. Charles County, near St. Louis, is Missouri’s third-largest county with 402,000 residents. Leaders of another St. Louis-area county, Franklin, also are not requiring face coverings for its 104,000 residents.

Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker, a Republican, said the commission “will continue to support the choice of the individual to keep themselves and others as safe as possible with their lifestyle choices.”

St. Charles County has reported 1,064 confirmed coronavirus cases, the fifth-highest total in the state, and 74 deaths. Franklin County has reported 208 confirmed cases and 18 deaths.

Smaller towns are saying no to mandatory masks, too. The Carthage City Council in southwestern Missouri on Wednesday rejected proposals to combat the spread of the virus, including limiting park gatherings to 10 people or fewer and requiring face coverings.

City leaders in St. Joseph and Columbia are still deciding whether to mandate face coverings.

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