MARYVILLE, Mo. — In a special meeting held Wednesday afternoon, the Maryville City Council gave its support to a resolution backing recommendations from the federal government and changing some municipal procedures due to the coronavirus, but stopped short of declaring an emergency or asking the county health department to take further action.
In a resolution expected to be passed Thursday afternoon, the council will affirm the recommendations from the CDC and President Trump, which advise that people avoid gathering in groups larger than 10, restaurants, bars, food courts and other gathering places, and avoid traveling, for two weeks. But city officials said they will not act further unless there is a more specific directive from the governor’s office or the federal government. In the meantime, council members expressed optimism that the city’s affirmation of federal guidelines would help lead individuals in the right direction.
“You know, we hope so, simply because there are a lot of local organizations that look to the local government for leadership, and maybe it will allow them to make further decisions or recommendations in their own business or practice,” said City Manager Greg McDanel. “And so, again, we’re limited with what we can do at this point until the state and local health departments make different decisions.”
McDanel said the city could not enact any more stringent regulations if council members wanted to unless the health department initiated them.
Tom Patterson, director of the Nodaway County Health Center, who was present at the meeting Wednesday, told the council that his office could pass an ordinance restricting some activities. But Patterson indicated his office would not do so until a positive test for COVID-19 had been confirmed in the county.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Tabitha Frank, public health nurse supervisor at the county health department, said that two Nodaway County residents had been tested for COVID-19, but neither test came back positive. At the state level, the first death caused by COVID-19 was confirmed in Missouri on Wednesday, and the state is up to 15 confirmed cases total.
“I think it’s important to mention that in a true pandemic, it’s not if we will see a confirmed case, but it’s a matter of when,” McDanel said. “And it’s our job to … just follow the guidance set by the CDC to kind of flatten the curve and its impact here, especially on our most vulnerable citizens.”
Multiple council members expressed particular concern about the continued operation of the Nodaway County Senior Center because of the age of its most frequent users. Frank said that the center had been in contact about switching to delivered meals only rather than allowing seniors to continue to eat and gather at the center, but as of Wednesday, the center had not done so. Patterson said that although the health department would be in favor of such a change, it was ultimately up to the senior center to determine if the change would be made.
McDanel and Maryville Public Safety Director Keith Wood said that if the senior center or other meal services switched to delivery-only, the city would assist with deliveries and getting volunteers to cut down on the number of elderly — who have been the most vulnerable to COVID-19 fatalities — involved in the program.
“One of the other things that I think I’m probably going to implement is a well-being check system,” Wood said. “We can put it on Facebook or wherever that says, if you have a loved one that lives in this community that needs to be checked on daily — whether that means a phone call or a knock on the door just to be able to put eyes on (them) and make sure that they’re OK — because a lot of folks, especially of the vulnerable folks, don’t have that big of a support system to start with in many cases anyway.”
The resolution that will be voted on in another special session Thursday will include provisions that will restrict visitors to City Hall to appoint-only, and visitors will be asked if they are sick or have been in contact with anyone who has been sick before being allowed in. Additionally, the city will waive the 85-cent online water bill convenience fee for paying the bill online. That’s on top of an announcement earlier this week that the city will not disconnect water service during the next 30 days, and in fact, had reconnected some services that were disconnected the week prior.
At Mozingo Lake Recreation Park, the Mozingo Event Center is closed until April 2 and all events of more than 50 people have been canceled through May 8 — the 8-week period recommended by the CDC — and all events of more than 10 people have been canceled through April 2 — the 15-day period recommended by the president on Monday.
The pro shop will be closed during that 15-day period as well, and the start of the senior league has been postponed until May 12. Other measures, like not accepting cash payments at the shop and removing items that are frequently touched, are likely to be implemented as well, and all RV park bathrooms will be closed.
But McDanel did not recommend that council declare its own state of emergency.
“I don’t think there’s any sort of action from a state of emergency standpoint that will prevent Nodaway County from getting a confirmed case (of COVID-19),” he said. “And with that being said, staff’s recommendation is that a symbolic state of emergency is just that at this point, and unless there’s further guidance from the state, and the governor turns to all county health departments and says let’s have a declaration of emergency, at that point then maybe our position would change.”
Direction from the state level, thus far, has been minimal. While the president recommended against travel, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has undertaken a statewide tour, meeting with local officials at each stop to talk about coronavirus needs and reiterating that the decisions about how to deal with the pandemic need to be made solely at the local level.
“I would even go so far as to say that part of the community is looking at us … for part of that direction and leadership,” Wood said. “I’ve had two conversations this morning with local places of worship that are considering, or on the bubble, on what to do with their services. And at least one of them said they were kind of waiting to see what the city did before they made their move.”
Mayor Rachael Martin said it's important for individuals to consider potential effects on their neighbors in the community.
“Well I think that’s also where this group is going to look to our community to hold our businesses that we frequent accountable for following the recommendation of, not us as leaders necessarily, but everyone,” Martin said. “We didn’t make up these rules, we’re following the recommendations of someone else. And I think that if I knew of a group or an organization that was not practicing these policies, I would have a conversation with their leadership and say, why do you not think that this is important?”
The City Council will hold a special session at 1 p.m. Thursday at City Hall to consider the resolution. Starting with the next regular meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 23, the city plans to stream meetings online to encourage remote participation by residents.
*A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the St. Joseph city health department had passed a resolution restricting activities in the city, and that other health departments had done so in other parts of the state. Both of those statements are incorrect. Though the city's health department was consulted and involved in the decision to pass restrictions in St. Joseph, and given emergency powers to recommend further action, the city's elected officials passed the restrictions. That is similar to every other occurrence across the state as well. The Forum regrets the error.