The Truman State University Student Government lobbied for a county-wide mask mandate throughout the semester but has shifted its focus to improving COVID-19 precautions in local bars and restaurants.
Kiren MacLeod, chair of the External Affairs Committee, said several members of the Student Government first met with the Kirksville City Council, which told them that passing a mask ordinance was not in their jurisdiction. Instead, they recommended Student government members meet with the Adair County Health Board. MacLeod said the Health Board told students that passing the mask ordinance was not in their jurisdiction either and recommended the students talk with the Adair County Commissioners.
MacLeod said he decided the students should not meet with the County Commissioners because several different people had told him that the Commissioners had rejected a mask mandate several times. MacLeod said while not many city officials support a mask mandate, they individually support the idea that people should wear masks.
“All of them were in favor of people wearing masks, but they didn’t think that passing a mask ordinance would be the most effective way to get people to wear masks,” Adam Barker, co-chair of the Health, Wellness, and Safety Committee, said. “They were kind of vague as far as that goes, but as a general rule, they wanted people to wear masks but voluntarily.”
Jim LeBaron, Adair County Health Department administrator, said according to state regulations, the Health Board would have the jurisdiction to pass a mandate, but that the Board was not likely to do so without the support of the Kirksville City Council and County Commissioners.
The Student Government members went to the October Health Board meeting, where a mask mandate did not have enough support to get passed. However, LeBaron said there have been about 400 more cases since then. LeBaron said he would be talking to Adair County government and city leaders this week to discuss their next mitigation strategy.
“Now everybody is starting to gather,” Lori Guffey, RN and communicable diseases specialist at the Adair County Health Department, said. “They are starting to gather, everybody’s inside, and so that means that there’s a higher risk there of contracting the virus because everybody is with each other for more than 15 minutes. So with that being said, the masks are probably the best thing that we have right now, it will not curtail it by any means, but it will help prevent the spread to some degree.”
LeBaron said he did not refer Student Government to the County Commissioners, but that it was important for all branches of local government to be involved in something like a mask mandate. The County Commissioners had been very helpful to the Health Department, LeBaron said, and he wanted them involved in the conversation about masks.
Mayor Zac Burden sent an email to the students involved in lobbying for masks. Barker said that in the email, Burden told the students that the City Council could only pass ordinances that corresponded to regulations recommended by the Adair County Health Department or the Director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. MacLeod said in the email, Burden also mentioned that even if the mandate was in the City Council’s jurisdiction, it was not likely the mandate would have enough support to be passed by the City Council. MacLeod also researched the relevant statutes that explained City Council jurisdiction and respectfully disagreed with City Council members’ interpretation.
“It seemed to say in pretty objective terms that when it comes to preventing the spread of infectious diseases, any city council should have the authority to do that,” MacLeod said. “The city claimed that they had talked with their lawyer, and that was not how they saw it. I brought up that statute and they said they would bring that up with their lawyer and get that back to us. They haven’t gotten back to us on that.”
MacLeod said he is waiting on a response from the City Council before lobbying for a mask ordinance.
Instead of focusing on a mask mandate, the students are working on Student Government restaurant and bar certifications. Restaurants can receive a poster if they comply with guidelines that the Student Government has compiled, which include employees staying home if they feel sick, employees washing hands frequently, maintaining a cleaning schedule, and spacing out tables and chairs, among others. If a restaurant has one of these posters, it means that Truman students should feel reasonably safe about eating at the location.
Barker said the student government members worked with the Kirksville Chamber of Commerce and environmental services on the project. Both Barker and MacLeod said the project has been successful and that many businesses have shown interest. The project comes at a time when cases are rising not only in Kirksville, but also throughout the state.
“We need community support now, right now. And that includes students, that includes everybody in the community,” LeBaron said.
As far as working with the city government on these projects, Barker said overall the experience has been positive.
“We really enjoyed getting to talk with the city officials and the leaders here in Kirksville.” Barker said, “They obviously are very dedicated people who really care about their community, and even if there are some disagreements on how things should be handled and even though it’s a chaotic time, they are definitely putting in a lot of work and a lot of time and effort to try to keep their community safe, and I really appreciate their time in working with us.”
MacLeod said he understands how complicated bureaucracy is, and while not everyone he worked with agreed with the idea of a mask mandate, each person was very understanding and polite.