County, City Support Face Masks, Health Dept.
By MARK EVANS
Acting county health department director Julie Flieg met with the Ste. Genevieve County Commission, Ste. Genevieve Mayor Paul Hassler and city administrator Happy Welch last Thursday morning. Emergency management director Felix Meyer was also in attendance.
The commissioners stressed that they supported Flieg and the health department, but also stressed that better communication was needed.
The total number of COVID-19 cases the county has had this year had risen above 100 by mid-week and growing concern had been expressed about the situation.
ENFORCEMENT IS VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE
Presiding Commissioner Garry Nelson read a 2017 state statute on contagious diseases.
“We passed a proclamation that confirmed it in April, giving the heath department authority to make rules,” he said. “However, the way I look at it, we don’t know health care. You’re the professionals; you should be making the decisions, not us.”
As Nelson has pointed out repeatedly this year, though, the final sentence in the state statute says that the statute “did not authorize counties to enact ordinances imposing county-wide minimum standards.”
Therefore, he said, all they can do is strongly recommend compliance.
Hassler said there was no way he was going to enforce it, either. However, he expressed his continuing support for the health department and its efforts.
“Throughout all this pandemic, we stood, the commissioners and myself and the health department, we stood together and united in everything we’ve done up to this point,” Hassler said. “I’m not going to do anything in the city that would contradict what these folks are doing here. It’s got to be a united effort. We want to continue to do that.”
Welch said that statutes allow cities to watch out for the health and well-being of residents. Despite this, he said, some cities that have tried to enforce mask wearing have already been sued.
“If you walk into Country Mart, none of the employees are wearing a mask, let alone customers,” Welch said. Getting employees and people in public view to wear masks should strongly be encouraged, Welch said.
“We felt kind of crowded in our [city] board room, so we started recommending masks in the board room. Everybody’s cooperating with that. But, I’m not going to walk over and say, ‘Get out.
For one thing, it’s public and I can’t run the out.”
Nelson agreed that infringing on citizens’ rights would be dangerous grounds.
“I think we’re good on this part of it,” he said. “We strongly recommend; we all agree.”
Nelson added that when Governor Mike Parson reopened the state, he said he would leave decisions to counties on how to proceed. However, he did not put it in writing.
“It wasn’t an executive order; it didn’t change the statutes.” Nelson said. “So, we still have no more authority.”
He said he would favor an official recommendation of carrying and wearing face mask.
“I think, like Paul said, we should recommend it,” he said. “If you’re out in public, have a mask with you, so if you’re around people, you can put it on.”
He added that “It cannot be enforced.”
Nelson asked Flieg’s opinion and she agreed that recommending residents use face masks would be the best track.
Hassler asked Flieg what the county health board planned to do.
“They’re thinking that same thing as you guys,” she said. “Something needs to go out there that we recommend masks.”
She said a lot of complaints had come in that Rozier’s Country Mart employees and many customers no longer wear masks.
Hassler pointed out that even for a business to enforce a mask code would be channelling.
“They have a right to impose it,” he said, “but am I going to say that you’re not going to shop here if you don’t. And some of these people are going to walk through without a mask. Are you going to confront them? Are you going to run tem out? Are you going to call the police on them?”
Flieg relayed an incident in which a relative forgot to take a mask to Weingarten Dollar General. She was told that if she did it again, she would be asked to leave.
They agreed to officially recommend that “If you’re in a crowd and can’t social distance, have a mask on.”
Flieg that trying to impose the required quarantine can be hazardous for health department employees.
“When we investigate these cases, we are yelled at,” she said.
She said any people who need to quarantine, flatly refuse.
FLIEG EXPLAINS CURRENT SITUATION
Flieg said the total had risen to 109 cases, with 17 of them acted, plus four probable cases.
She said the spike was not unexpected.
“We opened up again,” she said. “We knew when we opened up, we were going to have some more problems. I know we have 100 cases here. People are fearful. You know it was going to happen because people were going [places].”
Nelson asked how many people were hospitalized.
Flieg said possibly four had been hospitalized.
Welch pointed to a better barometer than total number of cases.
“The thing I’m looking at is how many active cases to we have,” Welch said. “Are we getting that many active? That’s what I’m worried about, if tat starts jumping if we double, double, double. Then we’ve got a problem, a health issue.”
Flieg reiterated that people going back to work has led to an increase of 52 cases.
“A lot of the work out of town,” she said “They all went back to work So we’ve had outbreaks in the Bonne Terre prison, we’ve had outbreaks in Festus, we’ve had outbreaks in a nursing home in Arnold.”
She said that it has been about a month since most county residents went back to work, plus some people daring to go on vacation.
All this has led to the spike, Flieg said.