(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) City officials opted this week to delay a decision to expand or let expire St. Joseph’s current mask order aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
In mid-July, Mayor Bill McMurray issued an emergency ordinance requiring individuals to wear face coverings or masks in retail spaces of 10,000 feet or more. The ordinance is set to expire on September 11.
Some city council members had expressed a desire to expand the current order to apply citywide when 6-feet of distance is not feasible between individuals. The call has intensified over the last week as cases in Buchanan County and hospitalizations trend upward.
On Thursday, the city health officials reported 1,334 people have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began. Up by more than two dozen cases since Wednesday.
“This is getting out of control and those are the actual numbers,” Councilman Kent O’Dell said.
Gary Clapp, a professor at Missouri Western State University who assists the council with COVID-19 data, said the 21 people currently hospitalized and the recent spike in cases is concerning.
“We have a pretty significant uptick in numbers and that actually sends us from a community-spread standpoint under our friends from the Harvard Group into the orange level,” Clapp said.
The Global Health Institute at Harvard has created a guide to help policymakers measure and respond to the coronavirus in their community. According to the guide, “Orange” means accelerated community spread.
“Waiting another week, I think will only exacerbate the numbers,” Clapp said. “We can wait and we can watch them and I’ll keep plotting them for you but they are going in the wrong direction.”
The City Council voted, 5-4, at its meeting Thursday night to keep the ordinance as is and reevaluate when it expires in two weeks.
Some of the City Council doubting the science behind wearing masks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all Americans wear a face mask when leaving the house to prevent droplets that could carry the coronavirus from traveling into the air.
Councilman P.J. Kovac said he spoke with a family that wore masks, gloves, did everything right, and still got the virus. He then asked the group why the science didn’t work in the one anecdotal case.
After a back-and-forth between council members, the Missouri Western Professor was asked for the consensus among public health experts.
He said masks have been shown to reduce spread for both the person wearing the face-covering and for the individuals around the wearer.
“The bottom line is they help but they are not perfect,” Clapp said. “They are going to reduce but they are not going to stop (it) completely.”
At least seven residents spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. Only one person spoke in favor of expanding the mask mandate. Some speakers said they doubted the science of wearing masks, others spouted conspiracies or recounted anecdotal stories.
After hearing the public opinions, a split city council decided to wait until their next meeting to pick up the topic again.