The City of Bolivar took a more definitive stance on face masks, just falling short of a mask mandate, in the Tuesday, Oct. 13, board of aldermen meeting.
With a contested 6-2 vote, the board implemented a COVID-19 resolution drafted by Bolivar Mayor Chris Warwick in response to rising cases in Polk County and public outcry for government response to the pandemic.
Aldermen Steve Skopec, Justin Ballard, Michael Ryan, Steve Sagaser, Thane Kifer and Alexis Neal voted in favor of the resolution, while aldermen Ethel Mae Tennis and Charles Keith cast dissenting votes.
The resolution asks people to “avoid participating in large public gatherings, use increased diligence in social distancing while in public and use increased diligence in wearing masks while in public.”
The resolution stops short of a mandate — which Warwick said would be troublesome because it would require two separate votes, as well as some type of enforcement that would burden first responders.
However, the document indicates a mandate could be in the future if people don’t comply.
The resolution, which does not have an end date, reads that “in the event that the community at large declines to use increased diligence and awareness during the coming days and weeks, and in the further event that positive COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the community, then the board of aldermen may have no alternative but to consider binding ordinances to mandate certain safety protocols for the city.”
“I think we need to make a statement to the public as our local body that a mask mandate is something we understand does help the spread,” Warwick said. “... What we’ve done from the very beginning is the aspect of trying to slow the spread.”
Tennis asked why the city would put a resolution in place when a mandate seems to be inevitable.
Keith voiced his opposition to the resolution, citing concerns about taking away people’s civil liberties and what he considers political motives behind the virus.
He also noted changes in information presented about COVID-19 and his personal skepticism about testing.
One alderman, Kifer, said the resolution doesn’t “have teeth behind it,” saying the city has already asked the residents to “please” wear masks.
He said he’s had constituents on both sides of the issue — both for and against a mask mandate — come to him to voice their opinions.
“Yes, I believe in individual freedoms,” Kifer said, “but there are times and occasions they might need to be temporarily removed,” noting times of emergency and martial law.
“Tonight, I support the resolution,” he said. “A couple weeks from now, I might support more.”
Skopec asked if a masking mandate needs to go through the board of aldermen.
“Can the mayor do that?” he asked. “I know governors and other officials do it in other places, so I didn’t know if the mayor could just do it on his own and let it all go back on him.”
Warwick said a unified message from the aldermen and mayor together is a “much bigger statement” than just action by the mayor.
With a state of emergency, which was implemented by Warwick in March, the mayor said it’s important for the city to move forward based on more than just his opinion.
During the meeting, Polk County Health Center administrator Michelle Morris said while understanding of COVID-19 changes daily, because it’s a new — or novel — virus, the health center staff works to stay on top of the latest information.
She said Polk County’s positivity rate has been fluctuating between 8% and 10%
“That has a direct impact on our community in a lot of ways,” Morris said.
Morris said the high positivity rate not only impacts long-term care facilities, which have to test residents and staff more frequently as the percentage increases, but it also puts stress on the local hospital system, businesses and community.
“The more people we have positive in our community, it’s going to negatively impact our community,” she said.
Morris said Dr. Robin Trotman, an infectious disease physician with CoxHealth in Springfield, likened COVID-19 to a motor vehicle crash.
“You know, when you get in a car, you have different things that protect you if you’re in an accident,” Morris said. “First of all, you have the outside layer of the car that protects you. Then you have the airbags that protect you, and a seat belt that protects you. So all of those things combined, if you’re in an accident, reduce the chance of injury to you.”
She said the same principle applies to safety precautions, like wearing masks, distancing socially and washing hands, tied to COVID-19.
“Masking is a layer of protection, social distancing is a layer of protection, washing your hands is a layer of protection,” she said. “All of those things are things we can do to add a layer of protection to help control the spread of the virus and help protect each other.”
Morris said based on preliminary data gathered by health center staff, there are more positive cases associated with large events where people aren’t wearing masks.
“We do know that less people who have been in contact with a positive develop symptoms in instances where masks are worn,” she said.
Morris became emotional as she talked about what’s ahead for Polk County.
“We’re going to hit 1,000 cases, probably tomorrow,” Morris said, voice cracking as she fought back tears. “If you would have asked me two months ago if we would have done that, I would have told you no. We wouldn’t be there. We have a significant amount of community spread happening within our community right now. It is negatively impacting the residents who live here.”
She said the health center has officially changed its stance on masking, saying it’s no longer a recommendation “but it is an expectation of our community to be masked when you go out in public.”
Morris said masking is “for the protection of those around us and those most vulnerable who are not able to fight off the virus as well as others.”
Cammie Wine, a lifelong Bolivar resident, who has been a nurse for 26 years at Citizens Memorial Hospital and the health center, also addressed the board.
She said CMH’s Intensive Care Unit has been full several times recently due to a high number of COVID-19 patients.
“What does this mean?” Cammie asked. “It means if a patient needs intensive care, they have to go somewhere else. But what happens when all the hospitals fill up? All the ventilators are being used?”
She called Polk County’s caseload terrifying and asked for a masking mandate inside public entities.
“Community support is what we need to slow the spread,” she said. “It’s time our local government takes this seriously. A mask mandate will save lives. If our local government has an opportunity to save lives, they surely need to do so.”