County commission, mayors, emergency management, officials discuss county’s response to the virus

By Laura Schiermeier, Staff Writer
Posted 3/25/20

VIENNA — As the numbers of Missourians infected with the COVID-19 virus climbed, the Maries County Commission and Emergency Management Team set up a meeting to communicate with the cities to …

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County commission, mayors, emergency management, officials discuss county’s response to the virus

Posted

VIENNA — As the numbers of Missourians infected with the COVID-19 virus climbed, the Maries County Commission and Emergency Management Team set up a meeting to communicate with the cities to discuss what action should be taken as the situation with the coronavirus continues to change each day.

Presiding Commissioner Victor Stratman said he contacted EM Director Scott John about setting up a meeting. Those present at last Thursday’s meeting with commissioners Stratman, Fagre and Drewel and John included Vienna Mayor Tyler “TC” James, Belle Mayor Josh Seaver and City Clerk Frankie Hicks, Denise Davis of the prosecutor’s office, Treasurer Rhonda Slone, Clerk’s Deputy Renee Kottwitz, Assistant EM Director Steve Brown, Extension’s Kelsie Lineback, and Prosecutor Tony Skouby. Because of the number of people, the meeting was moved to the upstairs courtroom and all in attendance used social distancing.

Following the meeting, the commissioners issued the following statement: Emergency Government Proclamation and/or Resolution of a State of Emergency in Maries County: The Maries County Commission continues to recommend that all citizens take the current COVID 19 situation seriously. Business owners should look at how they can operate while minimizing risk to their customers, employees and themselves.

In witness, we have hereunto set our hand at 11:00 hours, the 19th day of March, 2020 A.D.

All three commissioners signed it.

At the meeting last Thursday, John said the coronavirus is “highly contagious” and transfers easily from person to person. People must self quarantine, don’t travel, all to avoid exposure.  People are not symptomatic for several days. Some people have to work and can’t stay home. John sited the photos of the packed beaches in Florida, saying people do what they want to do and even though they’ve been told to stay home “nobody listens.” Initially SEMA said the virus scare would last three weeks but because people didn’t listen and did not restrict access it continued to spread. Now they are saying it will last several months. “We’re not even close to seeing what will happen yet,” he said.

If one million people are infected, there could be 20,000 to 30,000 American deaths. Commissioner Fagre said the seasonal flu killed 550 people in the state. John said the problem with being out among people is you don’t know where they’ve all been and what they’ve been exposed to. If someone you’ve been around is exposed, you need to self quarantine. It needs to be taken seriously.

John has been in constant contact with the state’s emergency management office, the governor’s office, SEMA, and the health department. There are resources available as President Trump has declared a national emergency and certain funding will be provided. Stratman asked about face masks and gloves for the people. John said they are not available. Some five million face masks and personal protection equipment (PPE) have been distributed through Homeland Security. They are to be given to health care workers and first responders who are the people on the front line of the virus crisis, the pandemic.

The county’s 911 Dispatch Center dispatchers have been briefed about how to handle coronavirus calls as they ask for a list of symptoms. Stratman said people are asked to call their doctor’s offices about their symptoms rather than just showing up at the doctor’s office. John said there are a limited number of tests and only 16 labs in the country certified to run the tests. It will take longer and longer for tests results if more people become sick. He said, “We’re in an unprecedented position.”

Phelps County already has declared an emergency and limited the seating capacity at restaurants and gathering places. Commissioner Drewel wondered who will enforce this. Fagre asked if they planned to arrest people. John basically said they will do what they have to do. Steve Brown said common sense must prevail and older people need to stay away. Fagre said people are getting “wound up” and common sense has “gone out the gate” as people are panicking.

In California they relaxed the weight laws on trucks. Five counties there have mandatory quarantines. Grocery stores are open but entertainment venues are shuttered.

Federal funds are available such as when there is a flooding disaster. He suggested the county and cities document any coronavirus expenses incurred.

Frankie Hicks said Gasconade County has limited restaurants to carry-out only. Stratman said maybe restaurants can take out half of their tables to keep people separated. Mayor Seaver said there will be some that would not do it. Slone said the Maries County Bank is closing the lobbies at all of its branches and people can contact them via phone and make transactions at the drive through window.

There will be an economic impact. They need to encourage businesses to do what they can to try to mitigate how the virus gets into the community. Schools may not go back in session until the fall.

Stratman asked John to let them know when they get resources. John said they get on webEOC and get things moving to get what they need. If there is a positive case of the virus in Maries County, the health department will partner with the commission to make an announcement; they will do a press release.

“We’re going to have it. It’s not if, its when,” John said.

The masks don’t keep people from getting the virus, but aid in stopping the spread of it.

In Phelps County they have established a respiratory area, an Army tent outside that people drive through and stay in their cars. People who have symptoms should put a mask on and stay away from others. He urged citizens to “have compassion for other people.”

He said he is staying on top of the situation and will relay information to the county and cities as he gets it. He took email addresses for the mayors and the commissioners.

They talked about declaring the emergency and John said he has a template for it. Drewel wondered what the people in Belle want. Mayor James said for Vienna he does not want to tell people what to do but he wants them to take this seriously. Someone suggested a conference call so all can be on the same page. Businesses need to rethink how they operate. Churches have cancelled services as they are being proactive and realize it needs to be done. Lt. John said they can only request lessening occupancy to avoid large groups but can’t make them do it. Brown said if the virus “ramps up we may have to make it mandatory.”

Skouby said the government will do it because they don’t want to be blamed for not taking action. The government has the right and responsibility to help people with security and safety.

James said people have to be responsible for themselves and workers have to go to work and deal with it. Mayor Seaver said he is dealing with whether or not to close the community center in Belle, saying if he doesn’t close it and someone gets sick, they are to blame. Skouby said there are estimates of up to 100,000 lives being lost. Stratman said precautions have been taken as every event in Vienna has been cancelled and the churches have cancelled services as well. Rather than make people cancel events, the people are smart enough to do it themselves. Kottwitz said in their resolution they can say, “Recommend and encourage.”

John said Missouri has been slow to respond to the coronavirus; other states have been more aggressive and preemptive. Our governor is being blamed and mocked for it.

Skouby said this is the type of situation where civil liberties are suspended. John said there will be mental health issues as well.

Stratman told the group the commissioners will come up with some type of statement. He thanked them for coming.

Editor’s Note: This article was written about a meeting of public officials on Thursday, March 19. An additional article is in this edition about another meeting the following day.

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