The popular Missouri tourist town of Branson will require face coverings in most public places in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, despite the objections of many, including comedian Yakov Smirnoff.

Branson's Board of Aldermen approved a mask mandate Tuesday that will be in effect from July 31 through Sept. 8. The expiration date of the ordinance coincides with the first regular board meeting in September.

Smirnoff, who operates a successful theater in Branson, told the Board of Aldermen Tuesday night that the mask ordinance would make his adopted home more like his native land, Russia.

"I'm hoping that you can make this an island of freedom and choice in the sea of hatred and fear," Smirnoff said to thunderous applause from others who attended the meeting.

The board first took up the matter on July 16. That meeting included nearly seven hours of public comment and another hour of discussion among board members and the city attorney, Chris Lebeck.

William Mahoney, president of Cox Medical Center in Branson, spoke in favor of a mask mandate at both meetings. He told the board that Taney County has about double the cases it had when they postponed voting on the ordinance two weeks ago. Taney County had about 150 positive cases on July 16, he said. That number is now 304.

Tuesday's meeting went on for less than three hours. This time the board put time limits on how long people could talk and required speakers to be residents.

The ordinance now has the following components:

Requires individuals to wear face coverings while in indoor and outdoor public spaces unless they are engaged in certain activities or under the age of 13. Requires operators of public places to ensure guests use face coverings. Requires signage at all businesses outlining requirements on social distancing and face coverings.

The penalty for violating this ordinance is a $100 fine and potential revocation of business license and other permits.

Under this ordinance, everyone over the age of 12 will be required to wear a face covering when in public spaces in the city limits of Branson. Exemptions are made for those with a health condition documented by a medical professional, who are hearing impaired and someone who is communicating with a person who is hearing impaired.

PRIOR TO THE VOTE

Branson performer Clay Cooper also voiced his opposition to the mandate.

Brian Seitz, a candidate for state representative in the 156th District, also spoke in opposition to the mandate.

"We are not anti masks. We are anti mandate," Seitz said. "God made us free and you were elected to ensure that freedom."

Before voting against the ordinance, alderman Larry Milton said he believes masks are effective but he thinks there needs to be more education about how to wear masks. Milton said there are "enforcement issues" with the ordinance and he worries about the negative impact such an ordinance will have on Branson's tourism industry.

Alderman Bill Skains, who later voted in favor of the bill, called comments from some of the ant-maskers "selfish."

"This is not a police state or yellow star, referring to the Jewish concentration camps," he said, recalling some comments that were made during the July 16 meeting. "That was one of the most disgusting things I've ever heard."

Skains also spoke about Arkansas Senator Jason Rapert, who recently visited Branson and has since tested positive for COVID-19. Rapert was hospitalized and has pneumonia.

"He no longer thinks this is a hoax," Skains said of Rapert. "He asked the people in the state of Arkansas and others to listen to what the hospital folks are saying."

Alderman Bob Simmons explained why he would be voting in favor of the ordinance.

"It's a shame to me that we can't trust our government. We can't trust the World Health Organization. We can't trust the CDC," Simmons said. "That means I have to personally drop back to local people that I know, local people that I trust."

Simmons said he sat on the Cox Hospital board for 27 years. Simmons said he knows and trusts Mahoney, who spoke earlier about the increase in cases, very much.

"There's not a more honorable man that I know anywhere," Simmons said. "I can't buy that Mr. Mahoney is standing up here lying to us."

Simmons went on to say that he is aware that some of the people in the audience might not vote for him again because of the mask mandate.

"I'm not up here to get votes. That is not the reason I sit here," Simmons said. "I'm tasked with doing my job while I'm here, so I will be voting for this ordinance. I think it's the right thing to do."

Missouri reopened its economy in mid-June and has seen a big surge in confirmed coronavirus cases this month — so much so that a new federal report lists Missouri as among 21 states in the "red zone" for the outbreak. Those states are reporting more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson has refused to issue a statewide mask mandate, but several jurisdictions across the state have enacted their own.

Some places are going even further. Starting Friday, St. Louis County is limiting crowd sizes, ordering bars to close early and getting tough on businesses that ignore the guidelines. Kansas City is considering similar measures.

The number of new confirmed cases in Missouri set another new daily record Tuesday — 1,773. It was the ninth daily record this month. All told, 44,823 Missourians have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and 1,213 have died. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.