In the middle of a 45-minute discussion about whether Carthage city leaders should issue a local stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Governor of Missouri took the decision out of their hands and issued a state-wide order for residents to stay home through April 24 at minimum.
Now city leaders will decide whether they need to meet again to tweak the governor’s order or if it can be adopted as it stands to allow Carthage police to enforce it.
“People who are doing the right thing will not be affected by this,” said Carthage Police Chief Greg Dagnan. “But we do need something that is enforceable that we can use for people that aren’t taking it seriously, that are asymptomatic, that are going around and infecting everyone else.”
Before the governor issued his order, sentiments were mixed among the 10 council members who met Friday by video conference over whether to follow Joplin’s lead and adopt a local order asking people to stay at home in the face of the easily transmissible Covid-19.
Council Member Mike Daugherty said he had read through dozens of emails and other messages and thought the sentiments were mixed.
“I think a slight majority of people are in favor, and those that are against keep saying that everybody’s doing the best we can,” Daugherty said. “I don’t know what town they’re living in because when I go to the south side of town where all the businesses are, nobody is doing it. I went to Walmart today and there were families, the mothers, the fathers all their children.
“If we’re too cautious no one will ever know. If we’re not cautious enough everyone will know. Who in your family or close circle of friends has to get exposed and run the risk of dying before people realize we all need to be acting like we have this virus and sit still for 15 days.”
Council Member Ray West said he’s had heart disease and is at a higher risk for more severe consequences if he caught the virus, but he wasn’t in favor of a local stay-at-home order.
“We’re supposed to represent the people from our ward and from the city,” West said. “With the input from the emails today plus multiple messages that I have had individually, plus the fact that nobody can say they don’t know the danger. It would be my opinion for today’s session that I am going to vote no that we should not do a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order.”
Once word got to the council that the Governor had issued the state-wide order, the conversation changed.
Council Member Alan Snow asked that the staff look over the state-wide order and see if it met the city’s requirements or needed any changes.
“Their people are the ones having to deal with the consequences of this virus,” Snow said. “So I would like for them to tell us what they need and we can come back at a later time, next Tuesday if we need, and then we can review it prior to the meeting.”
City Attorney Nate Dally said the mayor could issue an executive order mirroring the governor’s order if no changes are needed.
Dagnan said the police department would need some kind of local order before officers could write tickets for people violating the stay at home order.
Even then, Dagnan said residents who are following the health directives should see little change.
“Almost all communities that have done this have said we’re going to enforce this by not enforcing it unless we have to,” Dagnan said. “If you are driving to see your relative, we’re not going to stop you, we’re not going to require that you have a card or a letter saying you’re going to work at an essential business, we’re not going to stop a drive-through church or a church that goes to the Route 66 drive in to have church. We’re not going to stop someone from driving through a restaurant in town to get takeout or driving through. What we need is for those people who are not complying who are going around and infecting others, we need something we can enforce.”
Business owners speak out
Local business owners had mixed reactions to the discussion they heard while listening in to Friday’s online council meeting.
Dana Reed, owner of Screen Door Antiques, said she was concerned that the council was making decisions without a real plan.
“And to come together without ideas for a plan wasted our time,” Reed said. “We should not make any decisions out of fear. A shelter-in-place order infringes upon our constitutional rights, and people should be able to self-mitigate. We need to act with wisdom and not react to fear.
Keith McBride, owner of McBride’s Antiques, said small businesses are as essential as the big businesses, even in a health crisis like this.
“And we should be able to stay open whether they feel we are essential or not, as we have the right to survive too” McBride said. “Society needs some sense of normal these days.
Kip Smith, owner of Smith Midwest Realty, said he found the meeting informative.
“I have been openly against any infringement of our liberty, but I did learn that an ordinance was necessary to enforce these basic protocols most of us observe and respect,” Smith said. “It’s really there for the few who ignore basic courtesy. I think the city of Carthage should adopt Gov. Parson’s order and enforce it only when necessary to protect the public.”