Falling COVID-19 Numbers Leads City To Drop Mask Mandate

By ERIC X. VICCARO

eviccaro@stegenherald.com

Even though the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic continues throughout the country, impacts in southeast Missouri are lessening.

The Ste. Genevieve County Health Department’s most recent numbers are showing that trend.

Numbers weren’t available on April 2, perhaps due to the Good Friday holiday; however on March 26, the department reported 13 active cases.

According to the Show-Me Strong Recovery Plan website – administered by the state of Missouri – Ste Genevieve County reported 10 active cases as of April 1.

Overall, since the onset of the pandemic, there have been a total of 1,764 cases for a county of nearly 18,000 residents. There were what’s been considered 253 probable cases with 19 confirmed deaths.

Here are the current numbers in regional counties of note, Jefferson (173 cases), Franklin (61) St. Francis (12), Perry (7) and Washington (5).

This past Wednesday, in a joint effort between the Ste. Genevieve County Memorial Hospital and the county health department, there was a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Progress Sports Complex.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson (R) during a briefing at the State Capitol in Columbia on March 18 announced adjustments to the state’s vaccination schedule.

That briefing was a topic of discussion during the most recent Ste. Genevieve Board of Aldermen meeting on March 25.

Parson announced the start of Phase Two vaccinations, which began this past week on March 29. Phase Three is set to begin on Monday, April 9.

Phase Two features the commercial facilities sector, critical manufacturing, construction, defense, financial services, a sector of food and agriculture-based workers, government, certain affected populations and the homeless.

Phase Three is for all Missourians, which would extend eligibility to an estimated 1.1 million state residents.

WELCH DECISION

With all that information in hand, Ste. Genevieve city administrator Happy Welch made an announcement as part of his regular meeting report during that March 25 board of aldermen meeting.

“With all phases of the vaccination plan opening up in April and the reduced active cases in the county, I am planning on removing the mask requirement for city hall after April 30, and allow optional use of a mask when inside the facility,” Welch explained.

That would mean the masks would be optional inside the hall starting May 3, since May 1-2 are both weekend dates. That date is “tentative.”

Welch was quick to point out in his report that “the

mask requirement may be extended if there is a spike in active cases or an increase in hospitalizations in the area.”

Mayor Paul Hassler during discussions noted only a certain percentage of the population intends to get the vaccine, either in single- or double-dose form.

In fact, according to a December 2020 study from the United States Food and Drug Administration, overall 60 percent of Americans will likely get the vaccine – which was nine percentage points higher than a survey conducted in summer 2020.

Ward 2 Alderman Bob Donovan said he was uncomfortable going “mask optional” due to coronavirus variant strains and other issues connected to that.

Ward 4 Alderwoman Ashley Armbruster said the May 3 “mask optional” date gives the board of aldermen additional time to study the matter.

Ste. Genevieve County Health dDepartment administrator Jennifer Mueller was not present at the board of aldermen meeting.

Welch said he studied all the trends in both active cases and vaccinations before coming to an informed decision.

There wasn’t as much “brushback” as expected when Welch made the announcement, which also was carried on Spectrum Channel 991 and through the Zoom teleconferencing application.

City leaders and elected officials have “masked up” at meetings for several months.

Welch wanted to pick a date, instead of extending it further, which could have created additional “frustration” from the general public.

“Most of the staff has been vaccinated, or had the opportunity to,” Welch added.

The city still has a supply of 250 masks, provided for as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act money received last year. Two hand sanitizer stations, at a cost of $225 each, also were added inside city hall.

AMERICAN RELIEF PLAN

Multiple city of Ste. Genevieve department heads attended a webinar last week from the International City/County Management Association about the upcoming American Relief Plan, another federal funding allocation to be sent to states, cities and counties.

In St. Mary’s, city manager David Woods said he doesn’t intend to drop the mask mandate anytime soon.

“There is a sign on the door,” Woods said. “We have nothing planned to lift it. We’re just waiting this thing out.”

Like in Ste. Genevieve, St. Mary’s was given a supply of masks – that are available for customers upon entry into the building.

Woods reported masks have been required at both St. Mary Board of Aldermen meetings and public hearings. The mandate has been in place for several months, he noted.

Bloomdale city clerk Lynnette Randoll “encouraged” mask wearing. Randoll said the mayor and board of aldermen have been wearing masks during monthly meetings.

“We’ve left it up to individuals,” said Randoll, who noted there is a pane of glass separating herself from customers who pay their utility bills.

Randoll said the city of Bloomsdale has been following guidance from Ste. Genevieve County officials.

All government entities in the county have been informed of their American Relief Plan regional monetary distributions through the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning Office.

Woods reported St. Mary’s will receive $63,730, which will be used for general operating expenses.

The money will be handy for a community that’s lost sales tax revenue with the antique mall closed for a period of time, and temporary social distancing measures limiting patrons that was enacted at establishments.

Randoll said Bloomsdale is set to receive $102,220, which will be used to begin infrastructure betterments.

“We are embarking on water system improvement project,” she said. “We will be replacing water lines, and increasing their size. We need to get better water pressure in our lines since we are growing a bit.”

Randoll said Bloomsdale hasn’t been impacted greatly from COVID-19, canceling just two board meetings last year.

A start-up boutique in Bloomsdale quickly closed. Restaurants temporarily shuttered, but they are open now. Bloomsdale Bank recently opened up completely, Randoll reported.

The city of Ste. Genevieve is expected to receive $813,730 and the county $3,470,431.