After hearing recommendations from both local hospitals and doctors who are treating COVID-19 patients, as well as three hours of public comments Wednesday night, the Joplin City Council voted 6-3 to enact an amended ordinance requiring people to wear face masks or shields in public.
Those who voted in favor of the ordinance were Mayor Ryan Stanley, Diane Reid Adams, Charles Copple, Keenan Cortez, Anthony Monteleone and Christina Williams. Those who voted against it were Phil Stinnett, Gary Shaw and Doug Lawson, although they said they wear masks themselves voluntarily.
Testimony in favor of the ordinance came from several local hospital officials and doctors.
Jeremy Drinkwitz, president of Mercy Hospital, said, "We have seen a huge rise" in cases since the council turned down a mask requirement two weeks ago.
"Two weeks ago we had less patients," he said. "Now we have more. This morning we had 21. Yesterday we had 15." Combined with the number of patients being treated at Freeman Hospital, there are currently 50 patients being treated for the virus.
"That number is significant compared to a week ago," he said. "There is a concern within the medical community that we are going to run out of capacity.The reality is things are getting worse and we need leadership. We have seen a huge rise. We are deemed a hot spot for a reason.
"We're 100% in favor of face masks. We're asking you to do it. It's about protecting people in the community."
Dr. Michael Yuhas cares for COVID-19 patients at Freeman Hospital. He said he has treated people with many infectious diseases and illness.
Because of the seriousness of illness he has seen among COVID-19 patients, "I don't walk in there lightly. It scares me," he said of the COVID-19 unit.
"I am personally asking for people to wear masks. I wear masks for my patients, so I would hope other people would wear a mask for me."
Stanley said the council has received "significant amounts of emails, calls and texts about the effectiveness of cloth masks."
He asked Dr. Robert McNab, head of the COVID-19 unit at Freeman, whether masks are effective. McNab said he is not an expert on masks but that any barrier that has any amount of decrease "is going to be a net good for the community."
The council also heard from about two dozen residents, with 14 of them speaking against the use of masks or a requirement to wear them.
Troy Kinast, owner of an antique mall, spoke against adoption of the measure.
"By mandating this, you will hurt my business. I have had many people tell me they won't be in until the mask mandate is lifted," he told the council.
Resident Charlie McGrew asked the council to provide masks to people "who have a fear of the virus and not punish those who are not fearful."
He recommended that the council adopt a nonbinding resolution to encourage residents to wear masks. "The mandate is the problem," he said.
The measure was amended to include face shields as permissible as well as masks and to lower the fine range for violations from up to $150 to up to $50.
The ordinance would apply to anyone 6 years old or older and specify that masks be work inside businesses or public buildings. It also would require masks outdoors when social distancing is not possible and there are more than 10 people gathered who are not family members.
Businesses and public buildings would be required to post a notice that masks are required to be worn inside.
Businesses have the right to refuse service to those who refuse to comply, according to the proposed ordinance.
The city and law enforcement officers will act in support of businesses that need to enforce the use of masks, the ordinance states. Enforcement would first involve educating people and giving an opportunity to comply followed by a warning and then a civil citation if necessary.
It allows Joplin School District officials to work with the Joplin Health Department to implement safety protocols for school children that are safe and feasible for each grade level.
It exempts those who cannot wear masks for medical or religious reasons.
It goes into effect at 6 a.m. Saturday and remains in force until 11:59 p.m. Monday, Aug. 17, unless the council chooses to extend or terminate it before then.
A city mask distribution is being planned for next week.