MARYVILLE, Mo. — The Maryville City Council on Monday agreed to issue a new emergency order with more stringent COVID-19 mitigation measures that align with state recommendations.
Under the conditions of the order, which City Manager Greg McDanel said is likely to be issued Tuesday, retail businesses of less than 10,000 square feet will be limited to 25 percent occupancy and those larger than that will be limited to 10 percent occupancy. Additionally, social gatherings will be limited to no more than 10 people, and 6-foot social distancing must be implemented at all places of business, with job-specific exceptions.
Last week, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services issued a statewide health warning with recommendations for counties that are seeing different levels of COVID-19 infection. According to the state’s classification system, Nodaway County qualified as “category 1: extreme risk.” A county’s classification is determined by its 7-day positivity rate, which is a measure of the percentage of all tests for COVID-19 that come back positive. The highest risk category, category 1, requires that a county have a 7-day positivity rate of more than 15 percent, and 7-day case rate per 100,000 population of 350 or above.
According to McDanel, Nodaway County has a 7-day positivity rate of 25.45 percent, and a 7-day case rate per 100,000 of 561.
The state guidance also provides action plans for counties tailored to what category they fall in. For category 1, the state health department’s guidance recommends “occupancy limits reflective of social distancing” in businesses, social gatherings of no more than 10 people and strongly advises that masks be worn in public areas.
Monday, City Council members agreed on the framework of an emergency order that would put in place those state recommendations for each category. That means that if the county’s positivity rates were to go down, placing it in a lower category, the looser state recommendations for that category would automatically go into effect. In order to drop from a higher category, a county must meet the qualifications for the lower category for two consecutive weeks. The emergency order would last until the end of March.
“The nice thing about this criteria is that it takes the emotional part of the decision out of it,” said City Council member Rachael Martin. “We can look at the data and say, we have (a number) of active cases, and that fits us into category 1 … so, we have a good outline to follow that is not so much pieced together based on what I feel or what so-and-so feels. I just feel like it makes it a lot more clear for the public to understand our train of thought when we fit into a category like that.”
McDanel said the emergency order will likely be issued Tuesday by Mayor Benjamin Lipiec. That order will take effect while Nodaway County is in category 1, the “extreme risk” and highest risk category.
In addition to the occupancy and social gathering limits, McDanel said the city will be stepping up enforcement of the existing mask mandate, which remains in effect.
Although tickets resulting in fines can be issued for violations of the mask mandate, none have been issued thus far. Instead, the city has, up to this point, opted for an “education first” strategy. But Council members have received feedback from residents asking that the mandate be more strictly enforced, and last week, members of the Nodaway County Health Department board called on the city to do the same.
“I feel that the time for education has probably passed,” said Council member Tye Parsons. “… I would like to see some measures on enhanced enforcement.”
As part of that effort, McDanel said that the city plans to work with businesses, especially large retailers, to station police officers outside their stores during peak hours to help remind visitors to wear their masks. Additionally, he said the city will send letters to businesses, civic groups, churches and similar organizations “basically pleading” for assistance in encouraging compliance.
Local health officials have also pointed to youth sports as a hotspot for COVID-19 transmission, Council members said.
“(Nodaway County Health Department Director) Tom Patterson absolutely said that this was an area that had consistent and concerning positivity rates,” Martin said at Monday’s meeting. “I don’t think he’s been that direct about any other category, so … he made me want to take that into consideration, absolutely.”
The Council discussed what some other communities in the state have done, including shutting down youth sports altogether or having athletes wear masks.
“I do think the youth need an outlet right now,” Mayor Lipiec said. “Mental health of the youth is very different right now, and some of these kids that are participating in these sports, this is their, really, only opportunity to interact, and taking that away from them — I don’t agree with that.”
Ultimately the Council decided to form a committee made up of representatives from the local school district, Maryville Parks and Recreation and other activity sponsors to come up with language to be added to the emergency order later.
“I think a committee is a good idea, especially with stakeholders in town and the community that would be impacted,” Parsons said. “I would ask, though, that we move quickly on that, because things aren’t getting better. So, I don’t want to wait two weeks and then get the people together, I think we need to do it quickly.”
Following the state guidance, the Council plans to modify the existing mask mandate to apply to children as young as 5.
So far, the city is the only local government authority in Nodaway County that has publicly indicated a willingness to act on last week’s countywide warning from the state.
During their workshop meeting Monday, Council members spoke with Nate Blackford, president of Mosaic Medical Center - Maryville, about how the hospital has been handling COVID-19 patients, and how staff members have been holding up.
“No doubt people are tired, you know — it’s a battle, and everybody comes in every day prepared to do whatever they need to do to take care of patients,” Blackford said of his employees. “But we’re all human and grow weary, so, I think from my perspective, the staff is holding up well, but I would be disingenuous if I indicated that folks weren’t a little bit tired.”
Blackford gave some statistics to the Council to give them an idea of the state of the hospital and the Mosaic system:
- Mosaic Medical Center - Maryville has seen 559 positive cases of COVID-19 in November alone, and tested more than 1,600 for a positivity rate of about 33 percent
- Mosaic Medical Center - Maryville currently has 13 inpatients, five of whom are sick with COVID-19
- Across Mosaic facilities in Maryville, Albany and St. Joseph, the Mosaic system currently has 98 patients with COVID-19
- About 30 percent of all patients systemwide have COVID-19
- Seven of the 98 patients across the Mosaic system are in intensive care
- Mosaic Medical Center - Maryville is at about 80 percent of capacity, which Blackford said is the state average
- About 5-10 percent of staff at Mosaic Medical Center - Maryville are currently in isolation with COVID-19
“I certainly don’t want to send a signal that it’s doom and gloom, but it is at a point where, we’re at a different position than we were when this pandemic started,” Blackford said. “… And this isn’t just about COVID, right? This is about having the facilities available to take care of everything else. So if we have 30 percent of our patients (testing positive for COVID-19), that means 70 percent are not. … And so our goal, as well as everybody else’s goal, is to maintain the capacity within the health system to be able to take care of everything when it comes to us.
“And as COVID’s grown from 5-10 percent of total admissions up to 30 percent of total admissions, it puts strain on maybe some of those areas that are prepared to take care of heart attacks, and now they’re taking care of COVID patients, whether that be the emergency room, ICU — whatever care setting that might be. So, I think what you’re hearing and seeing locally and certainly in our region is a situation and numbers that we’ve not seen throughout this entire pandemic.”
Blackford said that spikes in hospitalizations usually lag behind a spike in positive tests by about 10-14 days, but refrained from making any predictions about how the hospital’s load might change over the next two weeks.
“I guess what I would say is, you know, there are a lot of unknowns that we’re not familiar with yet,” Blackford said. “It’s hard to predict exactly what’s going to happen, but I will say that trends over the last several months have been consistent — month over month, week over week, our number of positive cases (is) increasing.”
If more and more people decide to ignore social distancing recommendations, mask mandates and other health advisories, Blackford said, the chance for increased spread goes up.
However, Blackford, who said he did not envy the difficult decisions in front of the City Council on making COVID-19 mitigation policy, stopped short of recommending any specific measures to the Council, including any from the state’s advisory.
“I do think that the state’s criteria that they set up makes sense,” he said. “And I think that they have appropriately defined where we are as a community. … I also understand that there’s a lot that goes into decisions like this, whether that be the economic realities or whether that be the mental health and social realities — all of those things have to be taken into consideration, and I know you guys are.”
But as the winter months kick into high gear, and cold weather and holidays bring people inside in groups, Blackford did say that things could get worse before they get better.
“I think our challenges ahead are probably more significant than some of the challenges behind us,” he said.
Other City Council notes
- The Council voiced support for a plan to give away more free masks to residents in the near future. In July, the city gave away about 25,000 masks in around two hours.
- City Council members and emergency personnel participated in a video PSA the city produced to encourage mask-wearing that will be released online soon.
- McDanel said that the city has sent a request to the Nodaway County Commission to institute a countywide mask mandate. He said the city has not received a response, and the next two meeting agendas posted by the county do not indicate an intention to discuss the matter at either of them. The county health board denied a similar request last week.
- The city has set up an email for the public to send information about COVID-19 ordinance violations: email@example.com. “This is not set up for, specifically, ‘John Doe will not wear his mask in the store, you need to go ticket him,’” McDanel said. “But this is for us to find areas of concern that we can then work better with those business owners to issue education, warnings and compliance — again, to find those problem areas of our community.”
- In non-COVID-19 news, the Council approved Charlie Clodfelter to the Maryville Parks and Recreation board to serve out a term vacated by Tim Conn, who resigned from the board this month. Clodfelter’s term will end May 1, 2023.
- The Council approved the purchase of a mini excavator from KS State Bank Baystone Government Finance for use by the water maintenance division. The equipment is already on a three-year lease from the company begun in 2017, and the city will extend the lease another three years for $15,814 per year, after which the city will own the mini excavator.