All of the BH-FP's coverage of the new coronavirus is being provided for free to our readers. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing at BolivarMoNews.com/subscribe.
In an effort to protect the city as the new coronavirus pandemic unfolds, Bolivar's mayor placed the city under a state of emergency in the Tuesday night, March 17, board of aldermen meeting.
At the beginning of the meeting, the board unanimously approved an ordinance to add declarations of emergency to the city's code.
Later in the meeting, Mayor Chris Warwick declared a state of emergency for the city.
"We are moving the City of Bolivar into a state of emergency," Warwick said.
Warwick said "the conditions of the extreme peril and safety of persons and property have arisen in the city" because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Per the ordinance, the mayor can "suppress such events or actions, preserve the peace and order of the city and protect its citizens and their property" during an emergency.
On Wednesday afternoon, Warwick said, at this time, the primary motivation for the declaration was to address group gatherings.
As a part of the state of emergency, Warwick said gatherings over 50 people, with the exception of schools, daycares and businesses, will not be permitted within the city.
The restriction comes after the Polk County Commission imposed the same limitation on gatherings within the county on Monday, March 16.
Warwick and the commission both said their decisions were based upon the recommendation of the Polk County Health Center.
On a personal level, Warwick said he understands it’s difficult for people when gatherings are limited. He said he came together with his own church last Saturday to talk about future services.
“We made some hard decisions that day, and our congregation doesn’t even fall in the category of 50 or more,” he said. “But we chose to cancel some future services. People have to take care of each other.”
The mayor also said the decision is a financial one, noting it enables the city to receive funding on a state and national level.
“We are in a different state today than yesterday,” he said. “And the situation is continually changing.”
Aldermen present, either in person or via speaker phone, during the meeting included Ethel Mae Tennis, Steve Skopec, Justin Ballard, Michael Ryan, Steve Sagaser, Thane Kifer, Alexis Neal and Charles Keith.
Find the emergency declaration, the ordinance and packet from the Tuesday night meeting online at BolivarMoNews.com.
Local law enforcement changes response
The Bolivar Police Department and Polk County Sheriff’s Office are adjusting their procedures as the area continues to deal with the threat of the new coronavirus.
According to a BPD news release, in accordance with Warwick’s declaration of emergency Tuesday night, officers will no longer respond to calls that are not life-threatening.
“For those calls that do not threaten life, officers will try to resolve those complaints over the telephone if possible,” the release said. “If a physical response is necessary, please be prepared to meet the police officer outside of the building.”
However, the release said officers “will respond as quickly as possible to all emergency calls where life or personal safety are at risk.”
BPD is asking the community to limit non-emergency calls to “ensure the availability of police officers for emergencies.”
Chief Mark Webb said the department will shut down its main lobby for the time being in an effort to limit face-to-face contact.
Webb said he and his staff are in a balancing act between protecting officers and citizens from the further spread of the coronavirus and helping those in need.
He said the pandemic response does not include staffing changes at this time.
The department is moving ahead “as we are all learning how to maintain a sense of normalcy, while preventing the spread of COVID-19,” the release said.
“It is our sincere hope that this state of emergency passes quickly, with only minimal disruption in everyday life,” the release said. “We want to assure our citizens that your police department is here, ready to respond when needed, throughout this pandemic.”
Polk County Sheriff Danny Morrison said his department is implementing the same policies as BPD and also limiting response.
"We are taking all the precautions we can to protect the public and our staff," Morrison said.
Morrison said PCSO’s main lobby on South Main Avenue will remain open to the public for now, “but that could change.”
Also, he said the lobby to the Polk County Jail is closed to visitors and guests other than defense attorneys.
Pleasant Hope closes city hall
After declaring a state of emergency Friday, March 13, city leaders in Pleasant Hope closed the doors to city hall Wednesday, March 18, to help protect the community and city staff.
Emergency Management Director Rick Davis said city hall’s lobby will remain closed to the public “for the time being.”
He said residents can drop utility payments at O’Bannon Bankon Rt. H, south of Mo. 215. Davis said people can also mail payments to city hall.
Davis said the precautions protect the overall community.
“We have to look at two months down the road, four months down the road,” Davis said. “We’ve got to take precautions, just like the big cities do.”
He said the city has plans in place to deal with emergency situations.
“We’re prepared for it,” Davis said. “We’re set up for it as a city. It’s a waiting game now. Prepare for the worst and hope it doesn’t come to that.”
The emergency management director said he doesn’t anticipate disruption to services, like water and sewer.
While city leaders navigate uncharted waters, Davis said he approaches the situation much like he did the ice storm in January 2007.
“Just keeping people safe, that’s what you’re trying to do,” he said.
While Polk County has yet to have a confirmed coronavirus case as of press time Friday, Davis said it’s important for people to take steps to protect themselves.
For instance, to help with social distancing, he said the annual Bank of Sullivan Easter egg hunt set for later this month, is canceled.
He said it’s also important to take safety steps in doing everyday tasks, like pumping gas.
“Wash hands often,” Davis said. “If you’re getting gas, wipe down the handles on the gas nozzle and the pin pad with a disinfectant wipe.”
Davis said the city is working together with other groups in Polk County, like the commission, the health department and other municipalities, to help protect the community.
“Polk County has to work together as a team to get through this,” Davis said.