The Joplin City Council has voted 6-3 to approve a face mask mandate within city limits.
It goes into effect at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 11, and lasts until Monday, August 17, at 11:59 p.m., unless extended or terminated prior to that date by the Mayor or City Council.
Voting ‘yes’ were Mayor Ryan Stanley, Mayor Pro Tem Keenan Cortez, Anthony Monteleone, Christina Williams, Diane Reid-Adams, and Chuck Copple. Voting ‘no’ were Gary Shaw, Doug Lawson, and Phil Stinnett.
This means if you are six years or older and are inside a public facility or business, you will be required to wear a face mask, face covering, or even a face shield as long as it covers your mouth and nostrils. The ordinance also requires you to wear one while on public transit and outside when social distancing is not possible in groups of ten or more persons who are not members of the same family or household.
After hearing from citizens and deliberating for nearly five hours, the ordinance was passed in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, which medical experts say does work to protect those around you. The city has now seen 235 confirmed total cases of the virus since the pandemic started. 78 of those are currently active. There have also been 13 confirmed deaths, all at the Spring River Christian Village long-term care facility. Cases in surrounding areas have also continued to go up.
Over 20 residents showed up to speak to the council, many expressing their displeasure with the ordinance. Many cited the statistics on the state’s website that they say isn’t damning enough evidence that the area is experiencing an overload of hospitalizations with many people showing no symptoms. Some questioned the council’s authority to make such an ordinance and that it goes against our freedoms and liberties as Americans. They say the council’s job is to “represent the people not control them”.
Some disgruntled citizens have even said they will now shop in other areas due to the face mask mandate. One even said she would move away because of the mandate because it violates her medical freedoms, calling it “medical terrorism”. One small business owner says that citizens should be educated on how to properly wear a mask because many don’t. Another said the enforcement shouldn’t be put on employees at those businesses because they are not public servants.
Those in favor say our community needs to be protected and this ordinance would help do that with the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the area. Joplin Chamber of Commerce President Toby Teeter says the ordinance will help keep businesses open so that we do not have to roll back our reopening plan. One resident compared it to other laws and restrictions already in place such as speed limits or no-smoking signs, saying COVID-19 is a public health emergency for the time being and that it needed to be addressed. Another said if only one life is saved because of the mandate then it was worth it.
Mercy Joplin’s President Jeremy Drinkwitz was fully in favor of the mandate saying the two hospitals in the city not only limited supplies and limited resources but also limited nurses and beds to take care of the patients they have. In just the last two weeks they have seen an increase in patients with 21 as of Wednesday night. Combine that with Freeman’s numbers, that’s a total of over 40 patients in the hospitals that have COVID-19. Mercy and Freeman both asked the City Council to act and do put the mandate forward.
Dr. Robert McNab told the council that they continue to see an increase not only in cases at the hospital but also in an increase in the severity of the illness as well with more people on ventilators. Dr. Michael Yuhas says they work hard and diligently every day to treat patients. He also asks everyone to wear a mask out of respect for others on the frontline. He says this pandemic is real and that it is a disaster.
Just two weeks ago, the council voted 5-4 against a similar mandate. This new one has some changes, including how it’s to be enforced. It requires all public facilities and businesses that are open to the public to post a sign at all entrances that masks are required to be worn inside the business. Local law enforcement and other city officials will act in a support capacity to businesses that need to enforce the use of masks upon their premises.
This ordinance also directs schools in city limits to work with the Joplin Health Department to implement safety protocols, including the use of face coverings, in a safe and feasible manner at each grade level to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Joplin Schools Superintendent Dr. Melinda Moss says they surveyed parents and got a resounding yes from many parents who want their kids in school this fall. She says they are keeping their students’ safety at the forefront. She adds that they are tracking the latest numbers of the virus daily and will make adjustments as they get closer to school being back in session.
There are some exceptions to the ordinance. If you suffer from certain medical conditions, mental health issues, a developmental disability or are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you won’t be required to wear one. You will not have to wear one while inside a bar or restaurant while dining or consuming a drink. You also won’t have to wear one if it goes against your religious beliefs.
Enforcement of this ordinance focuses first on educating and working to promote the mitigation of the spread of COVID-19. A person or business will be notified of the provisions of this ordinance and will be provided an opportunity to explain an exception or follow the guidelines prior to issuance of any citation or other enforcement action.
Violation is punishable by a fine of $0 to $50 dollars, at a court’s discretion to be made during a mandatory court appearance. Businesses also have the right to refuse service for failure to comply, if there are no exceptions. Many council members believe this will take a load off the police in terms of enforcement.
The city is also spending $64,500 for cloth face masks that citizens can wear. That equates to about 50,000 reusable cotton masks. Council members are “near-certain” this will be covered by money from the federal government’s CARES Act. No city tax dollars would be necessary for that purchase.
City Manager Nick Edwards says a mobile drive-thru at Memorial Hall could be used to distribute those masks to the public which should be in town on Monday or as late as Wednesday next week. That exact plan is still being determined but you would need to bring proof of Joplin citizenry. They would also make a way to get masks to people if they are unable to travel. Masks are also available for purchase at several retail stores around the city.
At Monday night’s council meeting, members voted unanimously to keep the city in Step two of Phase two of the city’s reopening plan, which means businesses must keep their capacity to 50% or less of their building’s fire code. It also requires service industry workers to wear a mask if they cannot maintain social distancing.