Branson mask debate wades into Nazis, conspiracy theories

July 17, 2020 GMT

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri tourist town of Branson postponed a vote on whether to impose a mask ordinance after residents repeated deep suspicions of public health experts, the health care system and data tracking the spread of COVID-19.

One woman wore a wedding veil Thursday as a face shield and warned against moving toward a socialist society. Another brought a sign calling out the mayor for his “mask asphyxiation orders,” The Kansas City Star reports.

The board of aldermen will meet July 28 to take up the ordinance again. But it was clear that it will face an uphill battle.


“Excuse me if I sound a little punch drunk, I’m freaking tired,” said Branson Alderman Bill Skains about 7½ hours into the nearly 8½-hour meeting and after nearly 40 members of the public had spoken. “It is just absurd the things that I’ve heard. … Some of the wackiest stuff I’ve ever heard in my life — over wearing a mask.”

One resident, wearing a hat and T-shirt that read, “Tyranny Response Team,” said the coronavirus was “artificially created” in a North Carolina lab to make money for a company “in cahoots” with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least three people likened mask mandates to the Holocaust that killed millions of Jews and other Europeans.

Coronavirus cases have been climbing in Taney County, where Branson is located, despite county health officials passing a resolution asking residents and visitors to wear face masks or coverings in public places. That resolution isn’t a requirement, though.

By Friday, the county had reported 146 cases and three deaths. Just three weeks earlier, on June 26, the county had just 43 cases. Those numbers don’t take into account the tourists who go to the Branson area and test positive for the virus once they return home.

Statewide, there were 868 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Friday, the third-largest single day increase. The new cases brought the total to 31,290, a 37% increase from two weeks ago. The number of deaths also increased by eight to 1,121, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Meanwhile, officials pulled the plug Friday on the Missouri State Fair, saying a surge in the coronavirus made it unsafe to bring that many people together. The fairgrounds in Sedalia instead will be the site of a smaller event, a youth livestock show, in August, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

And 14 employees of the St. Charles County Department of Corrections in eastern Missouri have tested positive for the coronavirus. Those workers and 19 others who were exposed to them are all under quarantine, county spokeswoman Mary Enger said.

No St. Charles County jail inmates have shown symptoms, Enger said.