Requirements and recommendations for COVID-19 precautions in businesses were lifted Monday night by the City Council. Those precautions, part of the Joplin Response and Recovery Plan, applied to gyms, pools, personal services such as those offered in salons, places of worship, restaurants, theaters and outdoor sports.

They involved requirements that businesses and churches not allow employees with COVID-19 symptoms to work or customers with those symptoms to enter. They also called for the provision of things like hand sanitizing and hand-washing stations, the disinfecting of surfaces or equipment after each use and required social distancing in team activities in gyms.

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There also were recommendations that, while not required, were suggested. They included wearing mask or face coverings in businesses, the use of contactless pay options, and suggesting that people 60 or older or those immunocompromised not go into gyms, pools, salons, places of worship, restaurants and theaters.

The council discussed action on the exhibits after hearing a report by the director of the Joplin Health Department, Ryan Talken, who said that COVID-19 case numbers still remain relatively flat. There were 21 active cases reported among Joplin residents on Monday compared with 25 when he reported to the council April 19. While the council sought the input of representatives of the medical community, none appeared at the meeting. Mayor Ryan Stanley said he did not receive any information from hospital representatives and so had nothing to report. The council moved from Step 2 to Step 3 at its April 19 meeting but stopped short of repealing the restrictions attached to the plan.

The mayor said he felt that people have learned the practices to keep them safer from transmission of the virus.

Councilman Gary Shaw, who was mayor last year when the pandemic started and the first cases happened here, said he agreed. He said he thought businesses should set their own standards or rules, and Councilman Anthony Monteleone said he agreed.

Shaw made a motion to relax the COVID-19 restrictions. The city attorney asked if Shaw meant that the entire response and recovery plan should be terminated.

Shaw said he thought it was time to start trusting people to protect themselves.

Councilman Chuck Copple asked if the council would have ability to move back into the plan requirements if need be or if moving to Step 4 would automatically release the restrictions.

Shaw amended his motion to state that the city should keep the plan active in case there was a need to move back but go to the last phase of the plan, Step 4, and release the restrictions.

Step 4 does not have any restrictions. It calls for a plan to be developed on how the city should respond to any future or repeat pandemic.

Talken said city staff have not developed that plan yet.

Based on the council conversation, the mayor said the motion meant that the city would not exit the plan but would not continue to recommend or enforce any of the business requirements or recommendations.

The council voted 9-0 in favor of the motion.

Council member Christina Williams asked if city staff could prepare the details of a Step 4 pandemic plan. It was agreed that would be done.

Councilman Phil Stinnett asked if masks would still be required inside City Hall and the council chambers. The city manager, Nick Edwards, said that masks are no longer required for visitors but that employees are still required to wear masks until all employees who want to take a vaccine have had that opportunity. Then the City Hall mask requirement can be lifted, Edwards said.

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