By Gary J. Groman, a.k.a. The Ole Seagull*
By a four to one (4 to 1) margin, the Branson Board of Aldermen (Board) approved a mandatory masking ordinance to protect Branson residents and visitors from the spread of COVID-19. Aldermen Jeff Seay, Bob Simmons, Bill Skains, and Jamie Whiteis voted for the ordinance. Alderman Larry Milton voted against it. Alderman Kevin McConnell, who has resigned and is moving from Ward III, was absent.
The ordinance goes into effect at 12:01 AM on July 31, 2020. It expires automatically at 11:50 PM on September 8, 2020, unless extended by the Board. That is the date of the Board’s first September meeting.
Subject to a few exceptions, the ordinance amends Chapter 58 of the Branson Municipal Code to require mandatory face coverings in all public spaces (Section 58-387). A “public space” is “an indoor or outdoor area to which the public is invited” or permitted.” It includes, but is not limited to, Branson’s theatres, attractions, shopping malls, promenades, restaurants, hotels, schools, retail stores, and the vast majority of its businesses, and “any place where food is prepared or stored.” A “face Covering” is defined as “a particulate mask or fabric covering of the nose and mouth secured to the face with ties, loops, or elastic that is covering the nose and mouth.
Section 58-387 also contains several exceptions to the mandatory face covering provisions. No face covering is required for “any person who is in a public place while seated and maintaining a physical distance of at least six feet from other persons who are not family members or reside together, but such persons must wear a face covering while in waiting areas and while walking to and from seating or other parts of the premises.”
Other exceptions include but are not limited to:
1. While swimming
2. While obtaining a service involving the head, face or nose
3. While playing a sport, exercising or using exercise equipment
4. While outdoors while maintaining a physical distance of at least six feet
5. While outdoors who is closer than six feet to family members of people they reside with
6. While performing on a fixed stage
7. While engaging in public speaking while socially distancing
8. Any public safety officer engaged in an emergency situation
9. Any person during a wedding ceremony or while photographs of the wedding and reception are taken
10. Any family member of a deceased person during a funeral, internment, or memorial.
11. Children under the age of 13
12. A person having a health condition documented by a medical professional that prohibits wearing a face covering
A complete list of exceptions and conditions is in Section 58-387 of the Branson Municipal Code.
The penalty for an individual failing to wear a face covering where required is $100.00 plus court costs. Any person who owns, manages, operates, or otherwise controls a public place where wearing face covering is required and who fails to comply or require compliance includes a $100 fine plus court costs and the potential suspension or revocation of the business permit or license. (Section 58-390)
The ordinance also requires businesses open to the public to have a sign no smaller than 8.5 x 11 inches at each entrance and exit. It must contain the following language in red letters at least one-half inch high on a white background, saying:
IT IS A VIOLATION OF THE LAW TO ENTER THE PREMISES WITHOUT A FACE COVERING. IF YOU DO NOT FEEL WELL PLEASE GO HOME. PLEASE MAINTAIN AT LEAST SIX FEET (6’) OF DISTANCE BETWEEN INDIVIDUALS THAT ARE NOT FAMILY MEMBERS OR DO NOT RESIDE TOGETHER.
Signs meeting this requirement can be downloaded from the city website at http://www.bransonmo.gov/DocumentCenter/View/12769/Face-Covering-Signage and printed. Please note the red letters and white background are mandatory.
How will this ordinance be enforced? On its Face Covering Ordinance FAQ page, the city says, “Education will be the first step in enforcement. We will work to educate any violators of the ordinance before pursuing further action. Failure to comply with this ordinance can result in a $100 fine and court costs.” The FAQ also says that “Just like any other City ordinance, violations of the face covering ordinance can be reported by calling 911.”
During the meeting, the Board heard comments from those against and supporting mandatory face coverings. The reasons against it included the impact of wearing masks if not appropriately worn, concerns that face coverings don’t prevent the spread of COVID, the effect of wearing masks on other medical conditions, violation of constitutional rights, the potential impact on Branson’s economy because of tourists not coming to Branson; freedom of choice, and others.
The comments and staff report supporting the face covering mandate boiled down to one primary point, “It helps control the spread of the COVID-19 virus from one person to another.” William Mahoney, President of Cox Medical Center Branson, gave the medical side of the city’s staff report. He said that the number of coronavirus cases in Taney County is growing and has doubled in the last two weeks and that face coverings are a vital part of controlling the spread of the virus.
The city has a page with answers to the most Frequently Asked Questions at http://www.bransonmo.gov/DocumentCenter/View/12768/Face-Covering-FAQ-PDF. For any other questions about this ordinance, please call the office of Branson Emergency Management at 417- 337-8584.
* This reporter commented on the ordinance during the meeting. As pertains to the reporting of this story, he said that he relies on the health professionals who said that face coverings would help mitigate the disease’s spread. While acknowledging that some tourists will not come because of face coverings, he expressed his belief that others will come because of them.