A pandemic response plan adopted last year by the Joplin City Council to try to reduce the spread of COVID-19 will remain open for an unspecified period, though its restrictions have been lifted.

After hearing staff reports Monday night regarding a follow-up phase of the plan, a City Council member said he disagreed that the council should close the plan because of increasing case numbers and hospitalizations along with slow growth in the vaccination rate.

Joplin’s health department director, Ryan Talken, outlined steps that are to be taken under Phase 4 of the Joplin Plan for Response and Recovery, which involve preparations for any future pandemic.

“The intent of Phase 4 is to end the plan but commit to the items on the document,” Talken said. One step is to watch for signs of another outbreak while administering vaccinations to try to immunize residents against the virus. Another step is to work with stakeholders such as other medical providers to provide any needed updates to the plan. The third step is to continue to seek funding for the existing COVID-19 response, which includes ensuring there is an adequate supply of personal protective equipment that might be needed in the future.

Councilman Chuck Copple asked what the city’s situation is on acquiring the equipment.

Talken said the health department has a small stockpile on hand at the health department and that he is working with other health providers to ensure they have adequate stocks because that was a concern at the beginning of last year’s outbreak.

Copple said he did not know if the city had enough cleaning and decontamination supplies to keep employees safe.

Talken said city staff could look at what would be needed in a future outbreak and develop standing operating procedures on stocking those supplies and equipment.

Police Chief Sloan Rowland said the Joplin Police Department has built back its supply of protective suits, masks, gloves, decontamination foggers and other gear after giving much of what was on hand earlier in the pandemic to help hospitals and other public safety departments.

City Manager Nick Edwards said city staff was requesting to end the pandemic response except for the steps Talken outlined.

Caution

Copple said he disagrees with ending the plan at this time. He said the city has gone from having three residents in hospitals with COVID-19 to 10 and, when regional patients are included in the count, from 12 to 40 patients at Mercy and Freeman hospitals.

“Sitting at Phase 4 isn’t going to hurt anything, and we could drop back into the plan” if climbing cases made it necessary, Copple said. The numbers currently “are moving in the wrong direction,” he said. He asked for a report on vaccination progress.

There was no motion made to end the plan, and Mayor Ryan Stanley said a vaccination update would be given at the end of the meeting.

At that time, Talken told the council the “situation is about the same” as it was last month with relatively low demand for the shots but plenty of supply.

Joplin’s vaccination rate, which includes people who have taken at least the first shot, is at 44.4%. It was 39.9% when he last spoke to the council a couple of weeks ago. The statewide vaccination rate is 42.3%, he said.

Other business

In other business, the council approved an agreement with the Joplin School District that would provide parking for Memorial Hall on lots in that area currently owned by the district.

The city manager introduced the agreement and said that two lots south of the hall would be given to the city if voters next year approve a $30 million bond issue to renovate the hall as a multiuse venue for recreation, performing arts, banquets and meeting space as well as special uses.

A second agreement would allow Memorial Hall visitors to use one lot south of the Joplin School Administration Building at 825 Pearl Ave. on an unlimited basis for special events at the hall. Public use of another lot at the building would be limited to those spaces open between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays, though all of the lot would be available from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. Monday through Friday and all day on Saturdays and Sundays.

That building has multiple parking lots because it formerly served as a high school and a middle school.

Edwards said Monday night the two lots the city could acquire would provide about 103 spaces and that the city may be able to create street parking around the hall as well.

The Memorial Hall question will be placed on April ballots. If voters approve, the issue of bonds would allow the city to assess property and personal property taxes to pay the debt.

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