(SAVANNAH, Mo.) On Monday, Andrew County moved forward with the decision to let the face mask mandate expire.
The county-wide order went into effect in December and was extended at the end of January.
Two county commissioners, Bob Caldwell and Fritz Hegeman, said they feel confident the health system and the public are out in front of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve got confidence that our healthcare services are getting in front of this thing,” said Hegeman, the East District Commissioner. “The vaccinations we’ve got confidence that they are going to do their job and so we are very hopeful that we are going to continue moving forward.”
Caldwell, the presiding commissioner, agreed. Both adding that they still strongly encourage mask use but that the precautions should no longer be mandated.
“After a year, people have learned how to handle it not only the medical but the people in general,” he said. “I think everybody is more cautious so we can hopefully get back to some kind of normal but we still have to be cautious.”
The order does not affect city mask orders or school district mask policies
“We support local mask policies,” Hegeman said. “Our decision does not mean a parent can send their child to school without a mask if the district said they have to wear one.”
According to state COVID-19 data, Andrew County has had a total of 1,284 confirmed cases and 18 deaths. But in the past 7 days, only three county residents had tested positive. Additionally, less than 20 individuals are hospitalized with the virus in the Northwest Region, according to the state data.
The decision, both said, came after much discussion about the drop in new COVID-19 cases, patient hospitalizations, and advancements in medical treatments including the vaccine. According to Missouri’s vaccine tracker, 12.3 percent of the county’s more than 17,700 residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“The vaccinations have been kind of hard to come by at times but we’ve got a start and a lot of our most vulnerable citizens, we feel have had the opportunity to get the vaccinations, or are in the process of that,” Hegeman said.
The commissioners said they have faced pushback about the decision but there has been pushback on both sides since the order first went into effect in December.
“Back 90 days ago when we had some that were kind of vocal against it but then we had a lot of people reaching out thanking us for it,” Caldwell said. “Now that we’ve discontinued it, again, some people are happy, and some are sad, so it’s hard to meet everyone’s needs so we just have to do the best we can.”
Hegeman said they’ve kept municipalities, school districts, the county health department, and the health board in the loop on their decisions. He said not all local officials agree about this issue but conversations have been respectful and productive.
“I think there are some people on the health board that still probably feel like it might have been premature for us to live the ordinance at this time but they understood the argument for or the reasoning we used,” he said.
If coronavirus cases numbers start to increase in the county, the commissioners said they would potentially discuss reinstating the mask mandate.
“You’ve got to react to the circumstances that are presented to you at the time so if one of these other variant strains should happen to take hold and really and start to cause us problems, we possibly, maybe, would have to revisit it but we don’t envision that happening,” Hegeman said.
However, neither commissioner liked the possibility of it.
“We honor people’s freedoms and that’s important to people and we have to look around at our neighbors and what they are doing,” Caldwell said. “It’s just something that we have to think pretty hard about but we can never say never.”
The Commissioners said residents can feel hopeful about the way cases, hospitalizations, and vaccinations are trending but that no one should let their guard down.
“Each day the light is getting a little stronger. I think there is a light at the end of that tunnel. Our health department is kind of said the same thing. They think that we’re approaching that light and we still have a long ways to go, it’s a long tunnel,” Hegeman said.
The order officially expired Sunday at midnight.