4-State health care organizations urge mask mandate to combat COVID-19

Freeman, Mercy both reaching capacity

JOPLIN, Mo. – At Mercy 50 people are in the hospital with COVID-19. 16 are on ventilators. They’re dealing with the second highest case load they’ve seen since the pandemic began with October being especially difficult on both hospitals.

Now, health officials are calling on city leaders for a mask mandate to help get things back under control.

The hospitals in Joplin, both Mercy and Freeman, are becoming increasingly concerned as more COVID patients enter their units, pushing them to capacity and beyond ahead of flu season, colder weather and the holidays.

“In a free country, we get to make our own decisions, but we also get to pay for the consequences of our decisions and those consequences to this point are really straining the health care system,” said Dr. Robert McNab with Freeman Health System.

“Last week, Tulsa had no ICU beds to take transfer patients. So all the regional facilities that we would send people to are really struggling with capacity issues of their own so that’s a big concern,” explained Jeremy Drinkwitz, President of Mercy Hospital Joplin.

Both Freeman and Mercy officials agree that a mask mandate would help curb the number of hospitalizations they’re experiencing. Dr. McNab says that at any given time, at least 30% of Freeman’s patients are battling COVID.

“I can report today that with no mask mandate we’re now losing slightly over one citizen per day. So, that’s about 30 plus patients per month which represents a seven fold increase from the time we dropped the mandate. It’s gone up seven times,” said McNab.

“The coronavirus is highly more contagious than the flu, but we can also not spread it if we wear masks, if we do the social distancing. We can control whether we continue to do the spreading or not so that’s why we’re asking for our community’s help,” said Drinkwitz.

Health Department Director Tony Moehr also signed the letter sent to city officials across Joplin, Webb City, Carl Junction, Carthage, Neosho and all of Jasper and Newton counties. He says a mask mandate can’t come soon enough.

“It would be great if it went into effect last week, but obviously it didn’t happen and, you know, it’s difficult in a lot of instances for a whole region to develop mask mandates. Some of the states around us have done statewide mask mandates. It would be nice if in the State of Missouri the governor would make some sort of a mandate that at least gave guidance,” said Moehr.

The Jasper County Health Dept. said that in the past seven days, they’ve averaged 81 new cases each day. Moehr says those kinds of numbers just aren’t sustainable for a health care system that’s already struggling.

Joplin Mayor Ryan Stanley says that once he has had a discussion with the leadership of both Jasper and Newton counties, he will update Joplin City Council and discuss how to proceed.

Click the image below to see Mayor Stanley’s full comment:
Joplin Mayor Statement

The mayors of Carthage, Carl Junction and Webb City all said in a joint statement that they encourage people to wear masks. Their statement said, “We have been made aware that our two major hospitals are nearing capacity in their COVID units. They are very concerned as we enter the normal, annual flu season and the holidays. They have requested that our cities help as best we can to once again flatten this curve.

The cities of Carl Junction, Carthage, and Webb City jointly encourage our good citizens to double down on your COVID protocols. Practice good hygiene and wash your hands often. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid places where safe distancing is not possible. And, when you are in a place where you do not feel safely distanced from others please put on a face mask. Please honor local businesses who require face masks. Also, please wash your mask or replace it often for increased sanitary purposes.

We cannot predict that doubling down on these protocols will change the curve but if it keeps just one person out of the hospital our extra efforts will have been worth it. We trust our good people to do their part and know in our three cities that we are in this together.”

(Related: Missouri teachers union latest to urge coronavirus action)

Presidents, CEOs and executive directors of Mercy, Freeman, KCU Joplin, Community Clinic, Access Family Care and the Jasper County Health Department signed a letter addressed to local government representatives regarding the state of COVID-19 in the area. Joint letter to elected officials