While Joplin city officials consider whether to issue a shelter-in-place order that would close nonessential businesses, the Joplin COVID-19 call center has referred 20 people for testing.

The call center, operated jointly by Freeman Health System and Mercy Hospital Joplin, had 305 calls Tuesday from residents wanting to check their symptoms. Of those, 20 were scheduled for tests at the recently opened drive-thru testing center, said Paula Baker, president and CEO of Freeman.

Virus cases

Baker said that brings the total number of callers screened Monday and Tuesday to 629, with 31 referred for tests. There have been two positive cases of the coronavirus identified at Freeman Hospital that were not part of the call center referrals.

One person was sent home to quarantine, and a second person has been admitted to the hospital and placed in isolation, Baker said.

Mercy has had one case.

Dr. David Baker of Freeman said new tests being developed for the virus could speed up obtaining results from the current 24 to 48 hours to as little as 45 minutes. He said hospital personnel are keeping track of the status of alternative tests as well as the availability of testing materials.

“I believe that with more tests available, we’ll be able to test more people and have even more negative results,” Baker said. “We’d like to remind you that most patients who test positive will have very mild symptoms of an upper respiratory infection” that would involve sending those people home to recover in quarantine rather than being hospitalized.

Representatives of both hospitals said they have enough equipment and supplies to treat COVID-19 cases as well as their other patients.

The Freeman president said hospital staff members are being asked if people should keep appointments or postpone.

“We absolutely want patients to come for any appointments or procedures they have scheduled,” Baker said.

“We’d like to continue to keep this in perspective and reassure everyone that we do have the resources and supplies and that we do have the ability to take care of everyone in the community” who needs medical care, the doctor said.

City actions

At a Wednesday morning briefing by the city of Joplin, Mayor Gary Shaw said the city’s legal staff and health director are working on a shelter-in-place order that would protect more workers by closing nonessential businesses.

“A lot of the area cities and states are looking at sheltering-in-place or stay-at-home orders,” Shaw said. “Joplin does not have one. We are looking at this very seriously on the recommendation of our health department and, to be honest, a lot of encouragement from a lot of our citizens who are asking us for this. We will probably be addressing that in a matter of hours or days. It will be soon.”

Dan Pekarek, city Health Department director, said shelter-in-place order allows only essential businesses to remain open, and if a business does not meet the classifications established, it will have to close until the city lifts the restriction.

“The essential list is quite broad in most communities,” Pekarek said. “It involves anything related to health care, IT (information technology) structure and construction,” and up to about 59 types of businesses.

“One of the big messages that goes out anytime a community does a stay-at-home measure is it pushes the message out again about social distancing,” he said. “That’s what these type of ordinances are about.”

He said he expects the number of local cases to climb now that there is testing.

Shaw said that he has signed an order this week that limits gatherings to no more than 10 people.

Building permits

“Prior to this, Joplin was on pace to have one of the largest years on record with private and commercial permitting, so there are a large number of projects permitted and on their way,” said Brian Wicklund, the city’s chief building official. “Keeping that in mind, we are doing everything we can in order to make sure that building projects are continuing at this time.”

He said building inspections are being done.

If a project is already permitted, an inspection can be requested by calling the city at 417-624-0820, ext. 1521, and leaving the permit number and type of inspection and contact information. Requests can be emailed to building-inspector@joplinmo.org.

Inspections are up, he said. “I think a lot of people are taking this opportunity to do projects.”

Because some permits require reviews of different city departments and coordination with some county departments, processing new permits is slower, Wicklund said.

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