Springfield-Greene County Health Department Director Clay Goddard had some pointed words for the community during Springfield City Council’s Tuesday lunch meeting.
Goddard informed Council about the county’s current total of 240 confirmed cases of COVID-19, but expressed his concern about the “change in the epicenter” of the disease from urban to rural. He talked about the “Joplin Corridor” where they had 1,172 cases while the population in that area is 283,563, smaller than Greene County, and almost 5 times the cases.
Goddard said he was concerned about the outbreak there because it an hour away and a “fairly easy drive.” He said most of the disease seems to come from those kinds of trips. He said he worries about the health departments, like in McDonald County, where they had 240 cases reported in one day.
Goddard then turned toward Greene County, where he expressed concern after “traversing the community over the weekend” that residents are starting to get lackadaisical about the virus.
“It does appear that a lot of us have moved on psychologically from this disease,” Goddard said. “I assure that this virus has not moved on from us. It will continue to see out those structural vulnerabilities…but it’s also going to look for personal vulnerabilities that we put in place ourselves.”
Goddard said that he’s ready to be done with COVID-19 as much as everyone else, but the community still needs to take steps on personal mitigation strategies like mask wearing and social distancing.
He noted that Faytetteville, Arkansas is requiring masks in indoor venues. Joplin is discussing that a council meeting on Wednesday.
“Those approaches are not without controversy,” Goddard said. “They become a political issue. You just need to look at what happened in Tulsa over the weekend to see where those battle lines are drawn.”
Springfield City Council members asked Goddard about the possibility of requiring residents to wear masks as a “proactive step” to keep an outbreak from happening in the city, to which Goddard replied it was a political decision that has to be made by elected officials.
Councilman Craig Hosmer asked if masking was a viable alternative to re-closing the city and locking the community back down to stop an outbreak.
“Just to be clear Councilman Hosmer, I’ve never said [masking] was not a good idea,” Goddard replied. “It’s been guidance since very early on, and we think it’s a valid approach. The question is, ‘Is the community ready for an ordinance?’ Just because some things are a good idea doesn’t mean an ordinance is the right approach.”
Hosmer pushed Goddard to speak from a public health approach regarding his recommendation for Council to move in the direction of requiring masks.
“The evidence is clear we need more people wearing masks in public settings, yes,” Goddard said.
Hosmer said he thinks no matter what is recommended by the health department, unless there’s some kind of ordinance a majority of people will ignore that advice.
Goddard is going to research the Fayetteville ordinance and report back to Council.