JEFFERSON COUNTY, Mo. – A push for a mask mandate in Jefferson County is no longer on the table for the time being. Instead, the county’s health director wants to focus on building bridges and addressing issues that have affected Jefferson County residents due to COVID-19.
Jefferson County Health Department’s Board met Thursday night for a special meeting to let the community know how they plan to combat COVID-19 after meeting with more than 40 community leaders and stakeholders.
The meeting was held in a larger space than where they usually meet at the health department’s building. The larger space at the Jefferson County fairgrounds allowed the public to come into the meeting and stay socially distant, instead of solely watching online.
“We are definitely trying to build bridges and in order to do that, everyone needs to be on board,” Jefferson County Health Department Director Kelley Vollmar said.
“I’m not asking that everyone agrees with everything we are suggesting but if we can work together and put the most pieces of this prevention method into place, it’s definitely going to impact our numbers, which is going to help businesses, it’s going to help schools, help our faith communities, and get our long-term care facilities open. So, it’s a benefit for everybody.”
Some Jefferson County residents attended and gave a public comment, speaking for and against a mask mandate, but that was not on Thursday night’s agenda.
“I am not going to ask my board for a mask mandate. What we want to do is we want to find ways to bridge the division that’s happened within our community and be able to find local solutions to our local problems,” Vollmar said before the meeting began.
She said there has been such a division over the potential for a mask mandate that she did not believe mandating anything would make a difference in the community.
Instead, the health department plans to launch a campaign discussing issues that are impacting Jefferson County residents due to COVID-19.
“We are looking at how we can address the issues that have impacted our residents so some of the things that were brought up were mental health issues and substance abuse and the loneliness that has been experienced because of long term care or people not being able to attend church,” Vollmar said.
Although a mandate was not on the agenda Thursday night, there was still a clear division at the meeting. Residents spoke for and against a mandate and others protested a mask mandate outside. Some residents chose to not come into the building and listen to the meeting because masks were required.
“I am very concerned about what this means for our children, telling our children, ‘cover up your face,’” a concerned citizen said. “I’m a retired teacher, I’m appalled.”
Although the mask mandate is off the table for Jefferson County right now, some residents wish it were still an option.
“If we’re not going to have a mask mandate, we have to figure out how to get this county to take this virus serious at this point,” Jefferson County resident Jessica Shepherd said. “There’s no way that just continuing to make recommendations is going to change anything.”