Teen’s death changes town’s view about COVID-19

As America enters a dark winter without national directives to curb the pandemic, numerous cities, counties and states must decide: enact more restrictions now or leave people to their own will? Some in this tightknit city of 14,000 have discovered that the answer — and the key to changing hearts and minds — lies in how close and real the danger seems.

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December 10, 2020 - 9:24 AM

Downtown Washington, within view of the swirling brown Missouri River, is lined with historical red-brick buildings and quaint shops. A diner at Marquart’s Landing bar and restaurant on West Front Street says no one enjoys wearing a mask, but at this point it's necessary. "A lot of people just want to choose if they wear it," Andrew Piazza says. "They don't want to be told what to do." (Sara Shipley Hiles/Kaiser Health News/TNS)

WASHINGTON, Mo. — In August, local officials in this small city an hour west of St. Louis voted against requiring residents to wear masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

On Nov. 23, with COVID-19 cases surging and the local hospital overflowing, the City Council brought a mask order back for another vote. As protesters marched outside, Councilman Nick Obermark, an electrician, was the sole member of the nonpartisan council to change his vote, causing the mandate to pass.

One of his many reasons? He has a child the same age as Washington Middle School student Peyton Baumgarth, 13, who on Halloween became the youngest person in Missouri to die of COVID-19 complications.

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