St. Louis announced the return of a mask mandate Friday after Missouri saw a statewide rise in COVID-19 cases thanks to a small super-spreading town run by an anti-mask mayor where the current infection rate is ten times the national average.
St. Louis’s decision follows that of Los Angeles County, which ushered in the first major return of mandatory face masks on Sunday.
In St. Louis, masks are required in indoor public places and on public transportation for anyone age five or older, even those who have been vaccinated. Masking outside is ‘highly encouraged’, especially in groups.
dr. Marc Johnson of the University of Missouri School of Medicine has blamed the small tourist town of Branson for the statewide rise, calling it “ground zero” for the high infection rates.
“Branson has a lot of country western shows,” he told the Daily Beast. ‘No vaccines. No masks. A lot of people inside and air conditioning, tightly packed, listening to music, possibly singing along, so a super spreading event.’
Mayor Larry Milton (right) of Branson, Missouri, seen with Missouri Gov. Mike Parson in a Facebook photo posted on June 7. Milton is passionately opposed to mask mandates and vaccination passports
Branson, a city of 11,000, lives off tourism and has passionately rejected calls for mask mandates
Branson attracts tourists with its shows, theme parks and family-friendly museums
Visitors ride go-karts at an amusement park in Branson on June 29
Johnson, who oversees a state-wide program to monitor COVID-19 through wastewater samples, said they first saw the Delta variant in Branson on May 10 — which quickly spread to surrounding cities.
“By week three, it was pretty much everywhere,” he said.
The last sample from anywhere in Missouri that did not contain the Delta variant was on June 7.
Delta was followed by a spike in cases within three weeks wherever it appeared.
“It’s pretty scary,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if the Branson is the cause of the whole outbreak in Missouri.
“But I always suspected.”
While the rest of the state is shut down, the city that caused the trouble continues as if the pandemic never happened.
The 11,000-resident holiday village 40 miles south of Springfield has a thriving business as the mayor – elected on an anti-mask platform – has vowed to oppose any public health measures.
“First let me say clearly and for the record: I will not support another government mask mandate, nor a vaccine mandate,” he said on Facebook on July 13.
Monica Mileur packs groceries in a box at Union Loafers restaurant in St. Louis in April 2020, when the original mask mandate was in effect. It’s back now
Nurses and doctors are pictured in Springfield, Missouri, on July 16. State faces wave of COVID cases and braces for next deaths
“I didn’t talk about liberty and liberty during my mayoral campaign, just as a way to get elected. I defended those values then, as I do now, because I believe that every individual should have the right to decide for themselves how best to make their own medical decisions.’
He added: ‘I do NOT believe it is my place, or any politician’s place, to support, promote or force anyone to get a vaccine. That is a decision that each individual must make in consultation with his doctor and his family.’
He concluded by saying, ‘Be good to each other. Be good to those who visit our city. Don’t let temporary disagreements drive us apart forever. Masked or not, vaccinated or not, make smart decisions… Be mindful of those around you who may think differently than you. Be courteous, be considerate, be Branson.’
The infection rate for Branson and surrounding Taney County is 19.3 percent, and there are 54 new cases per day in a county population of 57,000, which is 10 times the national average per capita.
More than two-thirds of the population has not been vaccinated, The Daily Beast reported, including the tourist information.
“It’s not happening,” she said when asked by the site if she’d had her chance.
“Have a blessed day.”
Branson is known for ‘the world’s largest toy museum’, the Titanic museum, Silver Dollar City theme park and Dolly Parton’s Stampede Dinner.
Only 40 percent of Missouri’s population is fully vaccinated — making the state 12th in the nation for vaccine use. Alabama is the worst with 33 percent fully vaccinated; Vermont is the best, with 67 percent.
The decision comes as both of Missouri’s metropolitan areas are seeing a large rise in hospitalization cases that have begun in rural areas of the state, especially in southwest Missouri around Springfield.
The Kansas City Star reported Friday that medical leaders in that region appear to be on the cusp of calling for a new mask mandate there, too.
dr. Fredrick Echols, acting director of health for the City of St. Louis, said more than 500 city residents have already died from COVID-19, “and if our region doesn’t work together to protect each other, we could see spikes affecting our hospital and overwhelm public health systems.”
Missouri has averaged 542 new cases per day and five deaths per day for the past week.
The state’s positivity rate is 14.4 percent, on a seven-day moving average, according to the Missouri Health Authority. In New York City, on the other hand, it is currently 2.2 percent.
By July 20, 1,632 people had been hospitalized.
In Springfield, 200 miles southwest of St. Louis, hospitals are preparing for a wave of admissions.
Missouri Republican Governor Mike Parson announced Thursday that 10 advanced life support ambulances, 20 medical professionals, two strike team leaders and a logistics specialist were sent to Springfield.
Their role will be to help transport patients in a city where hospitals are almost full.
It is also home to Branson’s Famous Baldknobbers Show, a country music spectacular.
A long-serving Baldknobbers guitarist, Randy McConnell, died of COVID-19 on July 18 at the age of 59.
Branson’s Famous Baldknobbers are featured on stage. Sing-along country music is a popular tourist attraction
Randy McConnell, a popular member of the band, died of COVID-19 on July 18 at the age of 59