The Joplin City Council will hold a special session this week for what Mayor Ryan Stanley described as “round two” of discussions over a mandatory mask ordinance. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall.

It was the final action in the council’s coronavirus-related discussions during its regular meeting Monday. The council agreed to buy masks for Joplin residents, add staff to the Joplin Health Department and remain in the current step of the city’s recovery plan.

Last month, the council voted 5-4 against a mandatory mask ordinance. During Monday night’s meeting, a few of the “no” votes indicated that they would be amenable to further adjustments, while those in favor expressed their views had not changed.

The discussion happened after Ryan Talken, assistant director of the Joplin Health Department, updated the council about the status of the disease. Talken said Joplin currently has a total of 235 cases — 24 of which were confirmed later in the day and would not immediately show in the city’s informational dashboard, he said.

Talken said Joplin is not seeing the same sort of reduction in cases that other areas are seeing.

“While the numbers may be reducing across the region, the same can’t be said for Joplin itself,” Talken said during the meeting. “We’re continuing to add more cases a day than we are currently releasing.”

Councilman Chuck Copple, who in June voted with Stanley and council members Phil Stinnett, Doug Lawson and Gary Shaw, said he would be interested in further amendments to that ordinance that would address his concerns, and effectively change his vote. Copple said he voted no in June because the council would not table the ordinance for further development.

When asked by Stanley about some of those issues, Copple said he’d like to see some sort of exemption for schools as long as there is an alternate plan in place, removing portions that call for masks to be worn outdoors and adding a regular review or an end date.

Another aspect dealt with moving the burden of enforcement from police to businesses. Originally backed by Councilman Anthony Monteleone, the original ordinance was inspired by one adopted in Fayetteville, Arkansas. That ordinance called for businesses to enforce the ordinance by barring admission, similar to requiring shoes and shirts to be worn, but Joplin’s turned to police enforcement.

Mask purchase

Earlier in the meeting, the council agreed to spend $64,500 for masks Joplin residents can use to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The council agreed with a 9-0 vote to purchase the masks, but decisions remain about how to distribute the masks and whether they will have a city logo printed on them.

The ordinance approved by the council called for reusable masks that cost up to $1.29 each, said Leslie Haase, finance director for the city. Haase also said those costs change daily. The city could receive its order anywhere from two to five days.

Stanley inquired whether the reusable masks could be customized with a city logo without an extra cost; Haase said during the meeting that that option may be available.

The city hopes the cost will be reimbursed by money from the federal coronavirus relief bill. While reimbursement is likely, Haase said, if it is not approved by the county the money will come from the city’s general revenue fund.

Health department staff

The council also approved with a 9-0 vote the creation of three temporary, full-time positions within the health department to assist its handling of COVID-19 cases.

The positions include a case investigator/contact tracer, a lead case investigator/contact tracer and a data manager. The salaries will be funded by the federal coronavirus bill. Job descriptions are still being developed and will be presented to the city’s personnel board when completed.

Staying in place

Council members voted 9-0 in favor of remaining in “Phase 2 — Step 2” of the Joplin Plan for Response and Recovery. The step generally limits most businesses to 50% of their occupancy and accommodations for social distancing, and it requires restaurant employees who work within 6 feet of customers to wear masks. The next step would remove business limitations and reopen schools while maintaining limits on mass gatherings.

The vote came at the recommendation of Talken after updating council members about the status of the disease. The Joplin region has been a national hot spot over the last few weeks. Reports of violations of the plan can be made by emailing covid19@joplinmo.org.

Talken said wearing masks, washing hands, maintaining social distancing and staying at home when sick can help slow the spread of the disease.

“We know all these work. It’s just a matter of people getting on board,” Talken said. “It’s up to citizens if they want to continue the current trend or not.”

Joe Hadsall is the digital editor for The Joplin Globe. He has been the editor of the former Nixa News-Enterprise and has worked for the Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine.