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'You could not pay me money to go into that chamber': People who support mask mandate say they aren't being heard

Those who support the order urge councilmen not to listen to the loudest, or the only, voices in the room

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Tuesday night, the St. Louis County Council will vote on a mask mandate proposed last week. If it’s anything like the past two meetings, it will include extended public comment, mostly from people opposed to mandates.

Niki Duffy, a CPA and mom of two from Webster Groves, said that’s because the other side is keeping its distance.

“You don't see a counter-protest to the people that are against the masks because we're doing what we've been told to do, which is to not gather in large numbers,” she said.

She’s one of hundreds who’ve emailed or submitted written comments to the county council instead of showing up to comment in person.

“I am fully vaccinated, and you could not pay me money to go into that chamber,” she said. “We're staying at home or trying to social distance, but we can't be heard.”

Councilwoman Lisa Clancy proposed the new mask mandate, while County Executive Sam Page's mask ordinance works its way through the courts.
Clancy says she received nearly 800 emails in support of a mask mandate, mostly from people who do not feel comfortable speaking in County Chambers.

“They are concerned that their voices aren't being heard because they don't feel safe in the council chambers,"  she said. "And I don't think they're wrong about that, our council chambers have the ingredients right now for a super spreader event.” 

All in attendance at the July 27 council meeting were advised to quarantine for fourteen days following a positive case among the over-capacity crowd.

However, her suggestions to the council at last week’s meeting, that they once again accept virtual speakers during the public comment period, has not resulted in any change in procedure. County residents can only submit written comments that are entered into the record, but not read aloud.

“There is a huge disparity about the people that are able to come and talk to the council right now, and that's not acceptable to me,” said Clancy.

Much of the scientific opposition to masking voiced during the meetings is based on false or misinterpreted information, though a significant number of commenters admonish COVID-19 related mandates as government overreach. Duffy said for her family, masking is freedom during the ongoing pandemic.

“For that short time period where we were vaccinated and there was still the mask mandate, we finally felt like we got that choice that we could have our lives back,” she said. “I feel like that choice has been taken away from us because we're trying to do what's going to keep our kids safe.”

Clancy said she’s unsure how the vote will turn out Tuesday night. Following last week’s meeting, Councilmen Ernie Trakas and Tim Fitch said they will vote no. Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway had previously voted in favor of the latest mask order, and Councilman Mark Harder voted against it. 

Both Councilwomen Rita Heard Days and Shalonda Webb would need to vote in favor for it to pass, though they each voted to strike down Sam Page’s July order. 5 On Your Side reached out to Council Members seeking insight and will update this story with any new information.