Major developments arose Monday night in the ongoing debate in Hermann that concerns wearing masks as one protection against contracting coronavirus.
At a regular meeting of the Hermann Board of Aldermen, Mayor Bruce Cox noted the city had been presented with two different petitions -- both organized through Change.Org -- with one asking Cox and the board to make mask wearing mandatory and the other a request for the officials to refrain from instituting such a mandate.
The board took no action nor discussed the petitions, which are going to be entered into the city's minutes as having been formally received. Cox said the request to install a mask wearing mandate captured a total of 47 names, while the one which asks the city to not issue such an order bore 210 signatures.
Ward One member Susan Lenger and Cox noted that many of the signatures appearing on the petitions were from people who don't live in Hermann. The process followed by Change.org does not require residency before signing a petition, with Cox stating he isn't familiar with the organization's policy on signatures.
The signatures for the pro-mask petition are primarily from Hermann, although there are some from other towns in Gasconade County and the St. Louis area. Cox, the board and Gasconade County residents are addressed as recipients, with the petition titled, "Wear Your Mask."
The anti-mask petition also principally features signatures from Hermann and Gasconade County residents, but also contains some from St. Louis and suburbs, and from such locales as the Bronx, New York;
Chicago; and Grand Rapids, Michigan. That petition has recipients listed of solelythe mayor and board, with a lengthy statement outlining the anti-mask position that in part asks the city to "stand up for the values of liberty and personal responsibility…."
Both documents show that the signatures were made from mid-August on through the first week of September.
Earlier in the meeting, Cox read a new statement he had prepared in light of the ongoing controversy. He shared a first statement publicly at the board's Aug. 24 meeting. Both times, the mayor has provided copies of his statements to the Advertiser-Courier.
"I personally want to send condolences to the families that have lost a loved one because of this," he said. "And prayers that all infected with the virus will have a healthy recovery."
Cox said he was aware that some people in Hermann have been asking for city officials to approve a mandate to wear masks.
"I will tell you there are many more people that do not want a mask mandate," he continued. "I am a firm believer that each and every one of you have rights, and should have the right to be the one that makes the decision whether you wear a mask or not….Unfortunately, the nursing home situation happened, even being they were doing everything they could to prevent it, everyone wearing masks, etc., and it still happened."
The mayor said he believes residents should move on with their lives "and not live in fear." He asked care be taken as the typical flu season is about to start, and offered other advice.
"If you do not feel comfortable about going into a business because employees are not wearing a mask, by all means do not go in," he said. "Use your own judgment and make your own decisions."
He concluded the statement by pointing out that despite the pandemic, the city's budget has recently shown a 7 percent increase in revenues over last year. Earlier estimates by city officials had projected a 20 percent revenue loss in the first quarter of the new fiscal year. He thanked citizens for deciding to shop and eat in Hermann.
"It shows in those numbers," said Cox.
Gasconade County Health Department Director Greg Lara sat in the audience during the board's meeting, but did not speak. He later told officials he attended the session to answer any of their questions related to COVID-19.
Lara said he has been regularly communicating with the city by email, but would like to meet with officials to discuss virus precautions before Hermann's Oktoberfest.