Joplin will not yet impose a shelter-in-place order but has that option if there is a local spike in the COVID-19 outbreak, Mayor Gary Shaw said Thursday.

Because of recent reports that an order was being considered, "I've been having tons of emails and phone calls," he said. "They've been coming at a remarkable rate.

"And when we talk about the proposition of considering a stay-at-home or shelter-in-place ordinance, it's amazing. People from the same line of business are calling and 50% are for it and 50% are against it, and so we are all operating in a little bit of confusion and concern, and we certainly want to do what's best for all."

Case counts

The COVID-19 call center operated by Freeman and Mercy Joplin hospitals received 264 calls Wednesday, referring 17 people to test for the virus on Thursday.

That brings the week's total so far, since the hotline opened on Monday, to 893 callers with 48 tested. Callers are asked a set of questions to determine if they have been exposed or are experiencing symptoms associated with the virus.

"Those are very positive numbers," said Paula Baker, president and CEO of Freeman Health System. "That shows you that the vast number of people who are screened do not need further testing. That is heartening."

Four cases diagnosed at Freeman did not go through the call center.

One person continues to be hospitalized in isolation, but three of the people diagnosed at the hospital were sent home to recover in quarantine. Three of the cases were sent to the hospital by Freeman clinics.

Baker said one of the four cases was tested in the parking lot of the hospital's emergency department so that other patients and health care workers were not exposed.

Mercy admitted a patient earlier in the week referred there by health authorities in Bourbon County, Kansas.

Taking the test

Donna Stokes, infection prevention specialist at Mercy Hospital Joplin, said people who have symptoms such as shortness of breath and a fever, two of the typical symptoms of COVID-19, may call the call center for determination on whether they are eligible for the test.

The call center can be contacted from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at 417-347-6444.

Tests are given by appointment through the call center from 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

"We are averaging about 20 tests for each of those days," she said.

It takes at least 48 hours for test results to come back because the tests have to be sent away to the state health department or other labs for processing, she said. Those tested will be notified of the results by the local health department, she said.

Stokes led a demonstration Thursday at the drive-thru testing site in the parking lot at Thousand Oaks Medical Building, 1905 W. 32nd St.

The test involves inserting a swab into the nose that will reach to the back of the throat. It may be unpleasant for patients and cause a cough or gag reflex. "That's why we ask them (patients) to turn away from the (person collecting the test) and we provide them with a tissue or paper towel in case they do need to cough," Stokes said.

Joplin status

As it stands now, the mayor asked Joplin residents to follow the "15 Days to Slow the Spread," which is President Donald Trump's COVID-19 guidelines for the nation issued March 26. It calls for social distancing by staying at least 6 feet from other people, avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people, and for older people or those with health conditions to stay at home.

"The program was designed for 15 days. However, the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) said the status of the outbreak will be reassessed, and it may be that these measures will need to be modified or extended," the mayor said. "But in Joplin right now, we are going to take the stance that we are going to follow these guidelines.

"Our staff has worked and continues to work on a stay-at-home ordinance, so if we need it, we have it where we could use it. But right now, we are going to continue to do business as we have been doing recently and continue to encourage our residents to continue to use common sense" and abide by the guidelines.

Shaw compared the status in Joplin to that of watching storm clouds gather and being vigilant about whether to sound a tornado warning.

"Together we can get through this, and if we can get through it without a stay-at-home ordinance we will, but we want you to know we are monitoring that by the hour, not by the day, and we will only do that if it's something we feel is in the safety and best interest of our community."