Quincy News

Aldermen, mayor unlikely to back push for mask mandate in Quincy

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jul. 28, 2020 12:01 am

QUINCY -- Quincy business owner Tenille Sonethongkham appeared before the city's governing body on Monday to ask them to consider enacting a mask ordinance, but officials say they remain unconvinced that such a mandate would have much effect in the city.

"We recognize here in the Tri-States that (a mask ordinance) is going to do us little good unless there are also mask ordinances in Missouri and Iowa," said Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore, who added that a mask ordinance is not something that city officials were currently discussing.

"What we are asking for is a 21-day challenge where people commit to wearing a mask while they are out. I think, I believe people will follow that, and we will see a lot of improvement if people are willing to do that," said Moore, who added that a locally-imposed mandate would also need to be supported by the county government and by adjacent counties in Illinois.

"It has to be greater buy-in. It can't just be Quincy and Adams County but throughout the region. We can't pretend that the virus stops once you cross the Mississippi River or enter Adams County," Moore said.

The public's willingness to comply was the focal point of Sonethongkham's remarks, saying that a recent trip to Columbia, Mo., where a mask ordinance has been in place for several weeks and she did not see a single person not wearing a mask in public. She said that trip highlighted her the effectiveness of requesting the public's compliance and mandating it.

"The stay-at-home order was not a recommendation, but an order. A mask ordinance is much more popular option than businesses closing again or having another stay-at-home order," Sonethongkham said, who added that the city has ordinances for a variety of things, including barring the public consumption of wine in public, smoking inside bars and grocery stores.

"Encouraging mask wearing is nice, but will everyone follow this advice -- probably not," Sonethongkham said.

Eleven members of the Quincy City Council told The Herald-Whig in separate interviews that they were not generally supportive of a possible city-wide mask mandate, including Alderman Jason Finney, R-3, who said he doubts the effectiveness of a mask mandate but believes the city needs to "look at something because it is getting out of control."

"We have been under a mask mandate from the governor for months and what has it done, how have people responded," Finney said.

Alderman Katie Awerkamp, D-6, said she believed the state should be the one to mandate masks, not municipal governments and questioned how such a mandate would be enforced.

Alderman Jack Holtschlag, D-7, said he didn't think the city government needs to get involved in the debate over masks, instead saying that the decision to require masks be left up to businesses. Holtschlag's position was echoed by Alderman Tonia McKiernan, D-1.

"(That is a decision) best left up to businesses or individuals. Some people simply can't wear it for medical reasons," McKiernan said.

Her colleague, Alderman Eric Entrup, R-1, said while he too believed it was a personal decision to wear mask, he strongly encouraged everyone to follow the guidelines that have been outlined by public health officials regarding wearing a mask, washing hands regularly, use of hand sanitizer and adhering to social distancing rules whenever possible. He said he also supports a business owners' decision to require masks equating it to a "no shoes, no shirt, no service" type policy.

Alderman Dave Bauer, D-2, said it is up to the public, not the city's governing body to encourage masks.

"I would like to see the public do it on their own, and if the count keeps going up for the businesses to enforce it," Bauer said.

Alderman Jeff Bergman, R-2, declined to comment until there was a draft ordinance presented to the council for review. In the meantime, Bergman said wearing a mask was a personal decision.

Other members of the City Council -- including Alderman Mike Rein, R-5, Alderman John Mast, R-5, Alderman Richie Reis, D-6 -- said they believed the decision to wear a mask in public rests with individual citizens.

"I believe everyone should have that choice to wear one or not. I do, however, recommend wearing masks whenever you can't stay socially distant," Mast said.

Alderman Benjamin Uzelac, D-7, said he hopes the city doesn't have to decide whether or not to enact such an ordinance.

"If we are all actually self-monitoring our behavior then their shouldn't be a need for such a mandate," said Uzelac, who added that the recent uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases suggests that local residents are eschewing the advice of public health experts and officials and not wearing masks when in public.

The Adams County Health Department reported a total of 35 new cases since Friday's update bringing the total number of cases to 340.

The county health department also reported for the second day in a row that 12 people were hospitalized from complications with the virus and that 103 people had recovered from the virus.

While a mask mandate is off the table, Moore said he and other city officials will continue to encourage residents to wear a mask.

"I want to caution people that we are seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases in the world. This is not a Quincy only thing. We are going to continue to do our part," Moore said. "It is going to take us as a region, and as individuals, to really work together to be more caution, more mindful of our interactions."