It’s a number etched into the collective memory of the Joplin area, a number that is impossible for us to forget. It’s the number of people we lost nearly 10 years ago when a monstrous EF5 tornado ravaged our city.
But as of Tuesday, that number takes on a newer, equally awful meaning for us. It is now the number of people that the Joplin metropolitan area — the city plus Jasper and Newton counties — has lost due to COVID-19.
For nearly a decade, this community has worked to ensure that the tornado’s 161 victims are honored and remembered. We have an annual memorial run where participants can race through banners bearing their names. We’ve erected monuments to their memory in our city parks. We have established scholarships, launched new ventures, renamed public structures — all for the 161.
But for the 161 of COVID-19? What will we do to honor and remember them?
We stop acting like there is no possible way to turn this around. We must listen to our medical and health experts to help curb the spread of the virus and reduce the number of deaths going forward. And the experts are overwhelmingly adamant and unanimous: Wear a mask.
Our local medical and health experts have now gone one step further. On the same day that we reached that somber number of COVID-19 victims in the Joplin area, they banded together and publicly requested that governments in Jasper and Newton counties implement a regional mask mandate.
Our city councils and county commissions should heed this request. Our health experts are warning us that they’ll soon be strained, that ventilators soon will all be in use, that hospital beds will be filled, that their ability to keep people healthy and well soon will no longer be manageable.
The simplest way to reduce the likelihood of that scenario, to keep virus cases in check, is to require that people wear a mask. It’s a small price to pay to potentially keep someone else alive.
It’s up to us to decide whether we’ll allow another tornado-sized group of victims to fall prey to this deadly disease.