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In Missouri, There is Pushback To Mask Mandates In St. Louis And Kansas City

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This morning, Kansas City is the second large Missouri city to reinstate mask mandates. Needless to say, many people are unhappy, but the source of complaints is different this time. Anti-mask conservatives blame the government as in the past, but now many vaccinated people blame their vaccine-hesitant neighbors. Frank Morris of KCUR reports.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: Mask mandates in both Kansas City and St. Louis ask people, vaccinated or not, to cover their faces indoors, in public places, when they're close to strangers. It's a far cry from last year's lockdowns, but it's still a nightmare for Krystle Willmore.

KRYSTLE WILLMORE: It's just this feeling like I'm getting flung back into this horror film that I don't want to be a part of anymore.

MORRIS: For others like Heather Brown, the mandates trigger an extreme reaction. Brown was among dozens packing a contentious St. Louis County commission meeting last week.

HEATHER BROWN: We will not comply with unjust and illegal restrictions. Stand boldly with me now in peaceful but vocal noncompliance so our future generations don't have to correct these dismantled freedoms with violence like our founding fathers.

MORRIS: That tone continued. The county's acting health director, Dr. Faisal Khan, says the crowd at that meeting peppered him with racist insults. The state attorney general sued to stop the St. Louis mask mandate. In Kansas City, the reaction has been a little more chill.

KATE BLACKMAN: It was kind of like, oh, boy, here it comes again.

MORRIS: At Wineworks, a Kansas City-based wine producer, server Kate Blackman says the mask mandate will cost her tips and cause renewed hassles with customers. While she doesn't blame health officials or local government, she's not happy.

BLACKMAN: Yeah, I'm mad. I'm angry at the people who aren't getting vaccinated, walking amongst us without their masks on because they can get away with it.

MORRIS: That behavior helped the highly contagious delta variant to run wild here. In Kansas City, COVID-19 cases are up almost 800% since early June. That has not translated into a surge in COVID deaths, at least not yet. But hospitalizations are climbing.

QUINTON LUCAS: Missouri right now in its COVID response is a disaster.

MORRIS: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says the fully vaxed rate in Missouri stands at just over 40%, well below the national average. With the jump in cases, Lucas says CDC guidance calls for masks.

LUCAS: We are in an embarrassing position, a frustrating and disappointing position in Missouri. I need to take steps to keep our folks safe.

MORRIS: And it's high time, according to Angie Fry, an attorney who lives in Kansas City. Fy, who's getting her kids ready to spend the day with friends while she's at work, says her family has never stopped wearing masks.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I want my socks.

ANGIE FRY: Socks in Crocs?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Yeah.

FRY: Oh, my goodness. OK.

I couldn't have been happier about it. And I also was very frustrated leading up to it because I thought, why are we waiting?

MORRIS: Fry and her husband are fully vaccinated, but their children are too young. And just looking around, she says it's clear that unvaccinated people have been ignoring mask requirements even as the pandemic flares here. Steve Tulipana owns a stake in three popular music venues in Kansas City. He's worried about his businesses. He says the mask mandate will be costly, but he intends to enforce it vigorously.

STEVE TULIPANA: We are encouraging people that aren't vaccinated to not come to our events. It's like if you don't want to do it and you don't want to wear a mask, sorry, you lose because you made us all lose for months now.

MORRIS: Tulipana says another COVID-19 spike could kill his businesses. So if masks help to check the virus, he's for them, and he's done caring who may have a problem with that. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELA FLECK'S "OCTOBER WINDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.