WARRENSBURG — Protesters stood outside Johnson County Community Health Services Monday, Oct. 12, to voice their opposition to the Face Covering Order issued by the organization that went into effect that day.
The protest was organized by a group called Johnson County Freedom Keepers.
Protester Megan Jaeger said the goal of their protest was to get their voices to be heard.
Protester Jackie Langston, who started the group, said she wanted to form a group of like-minded people to take actions such as staging protests like the one that took place Monday.
"We were closed (on Monday), so we were not here, but my understanding is that it was very peaceful and they were very respectful and we appreciate that," JCCHS Community Outreach Coordinator Kerri Lewis said. "But we still feel we need to do what we can to continue to protect our community."
Langston said she had formed the group in response to the Johnson County Face Covering Order, believing that whether someone wears a mask in public should be a choice.
"We're not against protecting people," protester Veroushka Jones said. "A blanket solution which has not been tested is not right for everybody."
Lewis said the decisions JCCHS makes in regards to COVID-19 are based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Senior Services.
"Based on all of the research and communication we receive from the CDC and the Department of Health and Senior Services, masks are definitely a step in the right direction to slow the spread (of COVID-19)," Lewis said. "It's not 100 percent, we understand that, but it's another part of the approach we need to take to mitigate the risk of spreading it, so we continue to support mask wearing."
Protester Jennifer Wiley said she and other protesters want to look at the research themselves and decide whether they believe it is the right choice to make.
Jaeger said she supported JCCHS's decision not to reinstate the mask order and issue a health advisory in its place in September, as it allowed businesses and individuals to choose what they wished to do regarding face coverings.
Lewis said JCCHS reissued the mask mandate because it saw the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise and saw a greater community spread across age groups.
Lewis added that JCCHS received support from school districts, the University of Central Missouri, Whiteman Air Force Base and other organizations in favor of the Face Covering Order.
Jaeger added that while their protest on Monday focused on the mask mandate, the group also opposes visitation restrictions on hospitals and nursing homes as well as restrictions on restaurant capacities.
Lewis said visitation restrictions on care facilities were not put into place by JCCHS and are put into place by the organizations running the local facilities.
Lewis added that the current Face Covering Order also does not place restrictions on restaurant/business capacities.
Protesters also expressed opposition to having students wear masks for the duration of their school day.
"Our children are wearing masks for eight hours a day," Jones said. "We've never tested this before, so why are we all of a sudden eager to do an experiment on children?"
Lewis said that, according to CDC research, wearing a mask for an extended period of time does not cause additional health risks to the majority of people, including students.
Protesters also said advising masks to be worn rather than mandating them lessens hostility in businesses.
"It takes a lot of pressure off of your environment when you take the hostility away," Wiley said. "When we're combating each other, it's hard not to walk into a room and not feel that stress because I can't wear a mask and I'm villainized for it."
Lewis said having a mask mandate where everyone is required to wear a mask is a more unified approach than strongly encouraging the community to do so with a health advisory.
Jones said members of the group have called into JCCHS Board of Trustees meetings to ask questions and claim the Board members do not answer them.
Lewis said the Board opens up the floor for community comment at the beginning of the meeting before discussing agenda items and typically does not respond to comments following that period.
Lewis added that community members can also submit a comment or question to be answered by the Board at an upcoming meeting through the JCCHS website at johnsoncountyhealth.org.