Rising COVID-19 numbers have prompted the Joplin City Council to consider whether further action is needed to try to thwart the spike. A special meeting will now be held Wednesday to discuss an ordinance that would require that protective face masks be worn, Mayor Ryan Stanley said Monday.
"The city is very troubled by the rise in cases that we've had in Joplin but also in Joplin's region. Certainly, we are appreciating the scale of the risk and wanting to make sure that, as City Council acts, we are being very purposeful in the conversations we are having on how we move forward," Stanley said.
"Do we look at a face mask ordinance, and what does that look like? Do we even entertain moving backward, which I don't think we're getting that recommendation from the health department?" Stanley said.
The council had imposed a stay-at-home order April 3 that was lifted with restrictions May 3 to tamp down the spread. The city now is on the second step of a four-step reopening plan. That plan carries provisions that would allow the city to roll it back for an increase or speed it to a close if a vaccine is found or virus infections vanished.
With hundreds of new cases confirmed by testing in the last two weeks within the region that encompasses Southwest Missouri, Southeast Kansas and Northeast Oklahoma, Stanley said at a City Hall briefing Monday morning that "the threat is here. It is real. It is significant."
Joplin Health Director Dan Pekarek said Joplin cases rose to a total of 91 over the weekend, 52 of them active and 39 past cases released from isolation. Total cases were up from 56. He said the department also has 77 contacts of those patients under quarantine.
That increase was partly driven by an outbreak of 31 confirmed positive cases among staff and residents at Spring River Christian Village.
"I would say a lot of our cases are still tied to what is going on in the counties around us," Pekarek said. "Some of our cases have a relationship to those cases."
Large outbreaks have been reported recently in Carthage, Newton County and McDonald County.
The McDonald County Health Department on Sunday made two announcements about increases. In the morning, the department reported 196 cases confirmed since Friday, when the department had 238. On Sunday afternoon, the department reported another 39, raising total cases to 473.
Jasper County on Friday reported 249 current cases in isolation, raising the county's total cases to 298. Most were in the Carthage area.
Newton County reported Monday morning that there were 216 active increases, which included three patients hospitalized, bringing the county's total cases to 279. Two residents there have died from the illness.
An 11.9% growth rate propelled the Joplin region to the No. 1 spot nationwide for average daily growth rate of cases in the last seven days, as measured by the Dartmouth Atlas of Healthcare Project. That rate rose to 15.7% late Monday, keeping Joplin at the top of the list. The survey looks at the the number of patients in 306 hospital referral regions studied by the project. Joplin's region included the three-state corners anchored by Joplin's medical hub.
Both the mayor and the Joplin health director called on residents to take precautions that have been recommended since the outbreak here began in March.
"We want you to be especially careful when you're out in public about wearing a mask. If you have to be in a public place, especially something that's crowded where you can't be social distancing more than 6 feet, please wear the mask. That is for the consideration of people around you," Pekarek said.
He also reminded people to wash their hands frequently or use sanitizer, cover their coughs and sneezes, and to clean and disinfect surfaces that are touched a lot, such as door handles and countertops.
"We have talked a lot about trying to protect those most at risk from this — those individuals that are elderly, those individuals that are immune-compromised for some reason, let's keep those folks safe," Pekarek said.
Fever, dry cough and shortness of breath are all symptoms of the illness, along with things such as a recent loss of taste or smell, sore threat, headache, muscle pains and chills. People who are sick should stay at home until well. People who need to go the doctor or hospital with those symptoms should call the doctor's office or hospital first to get instructions to help avoid infecting others. People who believe they need a test may go online to www.doineedaCOVID19test.com to see if one can be scheduled, or they can call the Joplin COVID-19 call center at 417-347-6444.
Free tests will be available to any Missouri resident from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday in Neosho and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday in Carthage by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the National Guard. A person does not have to be having symptoms to be tested, but an appointment must be made by going to the website https://health.mo.gov//communitytest.
Joplin businesses or manufacturers in need of information about a COVID-19 matter such as government grants or loans and how to keep employees and customers safe should contact the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, chamber president Toby Teeter said.