Conversation with the mayor: Why Joplin will let a face mask ordinance expire

Joplin's face mask ordinance set to expire February 28th at midnight.

JOPLIN, Mo. – On Thursday, the City of Joplin announced that the city wide face mask mandate will be expiring at the end of the month.

The mandate went into effect on November 20th, 2020 just before the holiday season.

Joplin Mayor Ryan Stanley told us today that he feels confident the city is ready to relax some of the restrictions that have been in place.

“When we put the ordinance in in November, our case numbers per day were around 53 per day. They’re now at seven per day. Our hospitalization at it’s peak right around that time was 107 in our local hospitals. And right now it’s at 26,” explains Stanley. “It just kind of feels like we have leaned into that mask ordinance and it’s done its job. But also at the same time, we’re not at the same level of risk and danger and need for those government required activities. And now we’re shifting to a more government encouraged activities.”

When it comes to encouraging the wearing of masks, Stanley feels like some residents will continue to wear masks, but he’s sure others will stop wearing one in public places since there will no longer be a requirement.

“I do believe there’s a good number of people that wore them because we asked them to. And I would hope that helped form a good habit and made the mask wearing not near as big of a deal as maybe some people would make it to be,” says Stanley. At the same time, I would be hesitant to lift it if I thought the risk level was elevated. But we’re watching the risk level severely dissipate. Not just here, but everywhere. And so, I do feel like we’re at a point where we can kind of step forward with opening things up a little bit more.”

“We probably will see some impact to our numbers from the ordinance lifting. I think the ordinance added value to that. What is different today from what was there in November is we have a vaccine that is rolling. I do think that it’s clear that we have a degree of herd immunity that’s being built up in the community. Also, it’s hard to convince someone that there is a risk, there’s a danger, if the numbers aren’t supporting that,” says Stanley.

The mask ordinance is a document independent of the City’s Response and Recovery Plan. Stanley also explains some people in places of public accommodation like hair salons, where close contact is unavoidable, are still expected to wear masks. At the same time though, he explains the city council plans to discuss those and similar restrictions, like restrictions on outdoor gatherings, at the city council meeting on Monday, March 1st.

There was not a public meeting held to discuss the mask ordinance before the announcement was made. Stanley explains there were no discussions between members of city council regarding the mask mandate — instead, saying he asked council members if they wanted to hold a meeting to take up the issue.

“We did not have enough interest in council members that wanted to call a meeting, so it was basically a default that the ordinance was gonna expire,” explains Stanley. “Why not have a public meeting? If there’s aren’t enough votes to push a mask ordinance through… you kind of need to have the votes to support it, and there didn’t look like there was gonna be a majority where council was gonna support extending the ordinance. Those meetings create a lot of division in the community. Those meetings create a lot of frustration on both sides. And why would we create division, why would we create frustration, if it’s pretty clear on the direction council wants to go?”

If coronavirus case numbers start to increase in the city, Stanley says they would potentially look at reinstating the mask mandate.

We also reached out to Freeman Health System and Mercy Hospital. Both health systems sent us statements.

“Like everyone, we are encouraged by the significantly lower numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations we are seeing in the Joplin area, and by the arrival of vaccines. Both of these things offer hope that the end of the pandemic is near. However, we believe this is not the time to let our guard down as a community. The coronavirus is still present and still a threat, and there are also numerous variant strains whose effect on the pandemic isn’t yet known. We’re all tired of it, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, especially if we keep following best practices for a little while longer. We urge everyone to please wear a mask, social distance and wash your hands.”

— Mercy Health System.

 

“I understand that many people, for various reasons, are opposed to the mask ordinance in Joplin.       However, there is a great deal of science to support the effectiveness of masks, along with other precautions such as frequent hand washing and social distancing.   We have been successful in flattening the curve of COVID-19 and we do not want to lose our momentum.  People are still contracting the illness, so we cannot relax the preventative measures that have proven to be effective.   There are still many people who have not received the vaccine.  It is important for each individual to protect not just themselves, but all those around them—especially the elderly and vulnerable populations.    An added benefit of the masks is that the influenza cases are down dramatically from where they have been in previous years.  We believe this to be due, in large part, to the precautionary measures people have put in place, especially masking.”

— Paula Baker, Freeman Health System President and Chief Executive Officer.