McComb officials floated the possibility of mandating the wearing of masks in public, but not without hearing some concerns first from McComb residents attending the board’s work session on Tuesday.
Selectman Devante Johnson proposed an ordinance be drafted to mandate masks, and board attorney Angela Cockerham, who listened by phone, said she was working on the language.
But several people spoke out against the proposal.
“I am opposed to a city-wide mask ordinance or mandate,” Lindey Magee said. “It goes against our civil liberties. America was built on the fabric of individual liberty and freedom. It is important now more than ever that we stress personal responsibility.
“Regardless of whatever sound bytes we have heard from Dr. Fauci nationally and Dr. Dobbs, masks have never been proven to prevent disease,” she said, referring to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci and State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs.
She brought a study showing masks do not work in stopping the spread of coronavirus and said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with the World Health Organization no longer recommend masks.
But according to PolitiFact, a fact-checking organization from the Poynter Institute, both OSHA and the WHO do recommend face coverings in public. PolitiFact reports multiple instances when OSHA suggests wearing masks in public. A Department of Labor spokeswoman told PolitiFact that OSHA “generally recommends that employers encourage workers to wear face coverings.”
Johnson said he trusts Dobbs, who has urged people to wear masks in public.
Magee cited studies showing people wearing masks do not get enough oxygen, but the WHO tackles this claim on its website.
“The prolonged use of medical masks can be uncomfortable. However, it does not lead to CO2 intoxication nor oxygen deficiency,” the site said.
Other arguments at the meeting against mandating masks centered around claims that the virus is not as dangerous as health officials suggest. However, the flu kills 50,000 Americans in a year, while the coronavirus has killed 131,000 Americans since March.
Magee, who is co-director of Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights, also said the U.S. should try to attain herd immunity, but health officials have said that would require a large percentage of the population to become infected before any protections could come.
“Look no further than Sweden,” she said, noting how that country took a much more relaxed approach to the pandemic.
The chief epidemiologist at Sweden’s Public Health Agency, Anders Tegnell, predicted that Sweden would have herd immunity by May, but just 30% of Stockholm gained immunity. As of this week, Sweden’s per capita death rate was the fourth highest in Europe.
This issue of how McComb would enforce a mask mandate also came up, but because the ordinance hasn’t been drafted, Mayor Quordiniah Lockley said the “nuts and bolts” of the ordinance have not been worked out.
Johnson suggested looking at other cities like Tupelo, where Mayor Jason Shelton signed an executive order mandating masks on June 26, for guidance. The order does not specify repercussions for disregarding the mandate, but there are exemptions for children under the age of 12, those who cannot wear a mask for religious or medical reasons and “other settings where it is not practical or feasible to wear a face covering.”
Jennifer Jarrell said she did not want her children to exercise at their martial arts gym while wearing a mask. The WHO recommends those exercising do not wear a face covering.
“I am not sending my kid,” she said, warning others may stop shopping in the city. “You in effect will be shutting the city down.”
Jarrell said not being able to see each other's smiles would negatively impact people’s mental state.
“You are making decisions that effect us broadly. We just got back to church,” she said. “Who wants to go to church and not be able to see their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and not be able to see them? What psychological impact will these masks have? What business impact do these have? Are you prepared for businesses to close?”
Magee said it is unconstitutional to force citizens to wear a mask, but Cockerham noted that Gov. Tate Reeves gave municipalities the authority to mandate face coverings.
“My personal belief that the elected officials are responsible for the health and well-being of citizens; therefore, I do not feel that mandating a mask is unconstitutional,” Lockley said Wednesday.
Magee asked how many in attendance would stop going to stores if a mask ordinance was passed, and about seven of the 30 people there raised their hand.
“That was more than I expected,” Magee said, adding that businesses that follow a mask mandate risk economic harm and lawsuits.
Johnson countered that masks have been proven to stop the spread of the virus by keeping the virus contained in the mask.
“It is very important that we pass this,” he said.