While COVID-19 cases have retreated in Joplin as the number of people who have been vaccinated rises, needs remain for those in the area’s homebound and senior population, the Joplin City Council was told Monday night.

Jennifer Shotwell, director of the Area Agency on Aging, Region X, said food insecurity and getting access to COVID-19 vaccinations remain a concern for those who cannot easily leave their homes or do not have transportation.

While the senior centers in Jasper, Newton, Barton and McDonald counties have been closed since March 17, 2020, the need for food did not go away, she said. Since then, more than 60,000 meals have been delivered to Joplin’s homebound residents, and 7,000 meals have been prepared and picked up at the Joplin Senior Center for residents who needed them.

The agency and senior center has focused on the needs of the homebound during the pandemic closure, Shotwell said.

“We recognized because we were in constant contact with them that they suffered from food insecurity,” she said. “Food insecurity by definition means that you do not have a reliable source of nutritious food,” Shotwell explained. Those people ordinarily relied on family, friends, churches and others to supply food, but after COVID-19 struck, those who normally helped did not feel it was safe to continue for fear of contracting or passing the viral infection.

Because of that, the agency started a partnership with Ozarks Food Harvest that resulted in obtaining and delivering 15 tons of food.

“To be homebound means that you cannot easily get out, and once you’re outside the city limits of Joplin, there is no grocery delivery,” she said.

Additionally, the agency was able to obtain more than 5,000 pounds of frozen chicken and 1,000 pounds of beef to go with the food staples and household essentials provided through the Springfield food bank and the Agency on Aging.

Medical needs also had to be met and the agency worked with other agencies and providers to get those services and medications along with referrals to those in need during the pandemic.

The need now is to connect those residents with access to COVID-19 vaccinations. As part of that effort, the agency is working with the Community Clinic of Southwest Missouri to hold a private vaccination clinic on Thursday. Transportation has been arranged to get many of the homebound to the clinic.

It is hard to reopen while the pandemic is still going on, but a soft opening will be held May 3 at the Joplin Senior Center with staggered days for meals and activities. Those who wish to attend are asked to notify the senior center so it can plan to limit attendance in order to provide social distancing space.

Residents who wish to visit in the during the soft opening should call 417-781-9353 so the senior center staff knows how many people to expect the first week, Shotwell said. The center will be open only to pool players on that Monday and Friday, for bingo and lunch on Tuesday and Thursday, and for exercise, cards and dominoes on that Wednesday.

Ryan Talken, director of the Joplin Health Department, reported during Monday’s council session that Joplin’s recent COVID-19 cases are staying fairly steady. There was a slight uptick last week when the rolling average of new cases amounted to four a day, down slightly from the council’s last meeting.

He said the case numbers posted on the city’s website lists a 75% increase in cases, but that is only 12 cases.

The positivity rates of tests are staying relatively flat. The most recent number is 3.62% per 100,000 people, up slightly from 2.99% last month. That is under the statewide rate of 4.3%, Talken said.

Vaccine supplies continue to increase. Appointments are still available for a vaccine clinic to be offered from 2 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Joplin Health Department, Talken said.

Anyone interested may call 417-623-4973 to ask for a time slot.

Vaccinations open April 9 to all adults, which includes those as young as age 18 for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines and age 16 for the Pfizer vaccine, the council was told.

The council also advanced zoning measures and several other items of business.

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