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City issues 'shelter in place' directive

Tuesday, St. Joseph citizens will head indoors, at least for a little more than a week.

Saturday evening, the City of St. Joseph issued a declaration of a local state of emergency and "strongly encouraged" people to remain in their residences and avoid "public places except when necessary to obtain food, supplies and medical treatment."

The declaration goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, March 24, and continues until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, April 2, 2020.

In wake of the declaration, the city said its call center would open on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. That number is 816-271-4613.

Essential businesses are allowed to remain open, and the order explicitly defines them. The full language is as follows: 

Effective at 12:01am on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, and continuing until 11:59pm on Thursday, April 2, 2020, unless otherwise amended, withdrawn, or terminated, an amended declaration of a local state of emergency will enforce the following:

That, to the maximum extent possible, citizens of the City of St. Joseph, Missouri, are strongly encouraged to shelter in place, by remaining in their respective residences, avoiding contact with people with whom they do not reside, and avoiding public places except when necessary to obtain food, supplies, and medical treatment.

  • Businesses which are non-essential shall be prohibited from operating. Non-essential business are those that do not fall under the definition of essential as indicated below.
  • Essential businesses, as defined below, shall make reasonable efforts to require people to remain separated by physical space of at least six feet.
  • Travel may occur only for the purpose of attending work at an essential business, obtaining necessary food (including from restaurants), medicine, supplies, or pet supplies. Travel in the course of participating in outdoor recreational activities may also occur.
  • When in public, or when participating in outdoor recreational activities, people shall make reasonable efforts to be separated by physical space of at least six feet.
  • No business or person shall provide services that require contact between a person providing the service and the customer unless the service is for necessary medical treatment that has been ordered by a physician. Such services that shall not be provided include, but are not limited to, hair salon services, nail salon services, tattooing, and massage services.

Existing restrictions of the Declaration and Order remain effective.

Due to the changes being implemented, the city’s call center will be open Sunday, March 22, from 10am-7pm to answer any questions the public may have. The call center number is 816.271.4613.

Essential businesses

For the purposes of this Second Amended Declaration and Order, the term “Essential Businesses” shall mean businesses or organizations which are providing any of the following as a substantial element of their daily operations:

  1. Healthcare and public health services and supply distribution (for human or animal care);
  2. Law enforcement, public safety, first responder, emergency dispatch, and security;
  3. Agriculture and food creation, transportation, distribution, and retail sales (for humanor animal consumption);
  4. Restaurant and prepared food distribution (for allowed distribution methods);
  5. Energy, electricity, petroleum, natural gas and propane acquisition, extractions,production, generation, processing, storage, distribution, and retail distribution;
  6. Water and wastewater processing, treatment, conveyance, and distribution;
  7. Logistics and transportation of goods and people, repair of transportation systems andinfrastructure, transportation dispatch, packaging material manufacturing, shipping,air and rail transportation, and support services;
  8. Public infrastructure support and maintenance;
  9. Communications infrastructure support and maintenance;
  10. Information technology development, management, support, and security;
  11. Education (including childcare) and governmental operations;
  12. Critical community assistance and preparedness services;
  13. Manufacturing of necessary consumables and their components;
  14. Chemical and hazardous materials handling and cleanup;
  15. Critical financial services;
  16. Military operations;
  17. Home repair of critical utilities and facilities;
  18. Support for the foregoing services; and
  19. Functions that the Director of Health deems, in writing, to be essential services.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned designated services, the list of Essential Businesses maybe modified by a subsequent declaration and order.

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St. Joseph adjusts to COVID-19 emergency

A lot has happened in a week as cases of COVID-19 have continued to climb around the country and the world, and the illness has been declared a global pandemic.

In St. Joseph, increasingly stronger measures have been taken due to the virus. The community has moved away from gatherings of 10 or more people (starting early in the week at 50 people), schools closed, the courthouse closed and Gov. Mike Parson came to St. Joseph, where he said he expects the state to be able to test 10,000 people in two weeks.

A six-person panel with representatives from local health services sat down and discussed where the community was at Mosaic Life Care. Davin Turner, chief medical officer and president, said Mosaic has more than 80 ventilators available should patients need them.

“We are as prepared as we can be and we are looking forward,” Turner said.

The St. Joseph School District announced students would not return to the classroom from spring break, and along with local Catholic schools, plans have been made for distance learning until at least April 6. Other local school districts announced closures, then Parson announced Thursday that all schools would be closed across the state. Schools in Kansas will be closed for the remainder of the academic year.

Many people began working from home.

The St. Joseph City Council met Tuesday night and restrictions tightened. A community ban on gatherings of more than 50 people was reduced to 10, shutting down bars and some restaurants that were unable to provide social distancing. Restaurants now are offering only drive-thru or carry-out service.

“What we’re trying to do is be very aggressive in social distancing so we can hold back the spread of the virus,” Mayor Bill McMurray said.

On Wednesday, Parson suspended planned April municipal elections around the state, likely until June. By Wednesday night, Missouri Western and Northwest Missouri State universities announced their campuses would go online for the rest of the semester.

On Thursday, it was announced that the city was closing civic indoor facilities, including the St. Joseph Rec Center, Civic Arena and Bode Ice Arena. By Friday, that order extended to the city’s playgrounds. Walking trails and other outdoor spaces remain available to the public.

To end the week, it was announced the Buchanan and Doniphan county courthouses would be closed in response to COVID-19.

St. Joseph Transit buses are continuing to run with ramped-up cleaning procedures. Grocery stores remain open, and the school district and Second Harvest Food Bank made plans to distribute meals to ensure kids still have food.

As of Saturday, Mosaic had tested 39 people for COVID-19. So far, 29 tests were confirmed negative and 10 remain pending. There are still no positive cases in Northwest Missouri.

News-Press NOW has removed its online paywall for all COVID-19 stories.

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Drug Strike Force spends thousands on drug buys

Buchanan County Drug Strike Force informants spent nearly $10,000 to buy drugs in 2012. In 2019, they spent four times that amount.

The reasons why, according to Capt. Shawn Collie, the commanding officer of the unit, are multifaceted.

News-Press NOW obtained the figure for the amount of money spent by the task force on drug buys through a Sunshine Law request.

“There’s people that think we have thousands of informants,” Collie said. “That’s not the case, and we have a pretty tight policy (on who becomes one).”

In 2012, the Strike Force spent about $56 per drug buy. In 2019, the average spent was $314.

The numbers to date for 2020 were not available, according to Buchanan County Sheriff Bill Puett.

“Most of the cases are currently open, and (releasing the numbers) could compromise ongoing investigations,” he said.

Collie said the strike force has a set budget to conduct buys with, determined by the Buchanan County Commission. On larger operations, Collie said his group partners with federal agencies like the DEA or FBI to front larger sums of cash.

“They’ve (the county commissioners) been really good with us in understanding that it depends on what drugs in and what drugs out as far as if we’re going to be under the budget or over the budget,” Collie said.

2015 was the lowest year in the data set for total drug buys with 67, though the agency spent just over $22,000. The next year, 2016, the drug strike force increased its spending on drug buys by more than $23,000 to $45,740.

“When you move a little higher in the food chain, what you’re going to see is you’re buying larger amounts of the drug and so the price is going to go up,” Collie said. “When you’re talking $80 a pill, even $40 a pill, if you’re buying, you know, so many pills, then you’re going to spend more money.”

Then, in both 2017 and 2018, the agency reduced its spending on drug buys to $30,200, and $36,000, respectively.

The latest figure shows confidential informants spent $40,000 on 127 drug buys on behalf of the Strike Force in 2019.

Collie said his agency does use undercover officers to conduct drug buys when possible, but the tactic isn’t always effective in Northwest Missouri.

“That may work really easy in the bigger cities where you get into larger populations,” he said. “The bad thing is for the areas we cover in Northwest Missouri, just having that person show up out of the blue isn’t something we do.”

In addition, Collie said the strike force does not generally use people who are accused or convicted of crimes that caused harm to people as confidential informants.

He confirmed some informants do get paid, and the amount usually starts at about $100 per deal. Other informants are not paid, and Collie said his agency often informs local prosecutors of informants’ help in cases in exchange for their cooperation.

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We are all home-schoolers now

When asked about the benefits of educating her children at home, Rawné Pierce can reel off plenty of examples.

There’s flexibility, time spent with children and an ability to tailor instruction to their specific needs. But there’s something else that comes with home-schooling: a daunting sense of responsibility.

“It’s a carefully planned and researched decision,” she said. “It’s kind of scary when you’re going to buck the system. There’s a

lot of responsibility.”

Soon, other St. Joseph parents might feel a similar burden. Schools across the city are closed in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean all learning comes to a halt. Catholic schools are switching to a distance learning model, for as long as the buildings are closed. At the beginning of spring break, public schools sent technology home with students, in preparation for a similar step.

It’s a bold move into uncharted territory, and not just for parents and students. Teachers are wondering how it’s all going to work, especially with U.S. Census data showing that 18% of St. Joseph households don’t have a computer in the home.

Presumably, some of those households have school-aged children.

“Obviously one of my big concerns is in the equity of educational opportunities,” said J. Eric Simmons, a Central High School teacher and president of the St. Joseph chapter of the National Education Association. “Things like this, we’ve never dealt with on such a grand scale. We really don’t know how it’s going to go.”

Expect some bumps at first, especially since parents might be overstretched as they work from home during the coronavirus crisis. But both veteran classroom teachers and home-school parents said some simple steps will make a home-based learning environment more effective and engaging.

For starters, no waking up at noon and studying in pajamas.

“The biggest piece of advice I would give parents is to set a routine and hold their children to the routine so the children can experience something similar to what they experience at school,” Simmons said. “They get up. They get breakfast. They get ready for the day.”

Home-school parents said structure and a dedicated work space are important, but only to a point.

“My biggest piece of advice is to know your kids,” said Summer Hughes, who home-schools a fifth- and a ninth-grader. “Some kids really need the routine. Some don’t. It’s important to figure out how they learn.”

One thing parents will quickly realize, Pierce said, is that students won’t be able to sit down and work for eight hours straight. What’s more, they don’t need to try that. In a traditional school day, a certain amount of time is lost doing things like walking to other classrooms, getting materials out of lockers and dealing with discipline issues.

“Parents need to be realistic,” she said. “It’s going to be unrealistic to think their kid has a full day of school work at home. Home-schoolers get their work done in four hours, maybe.”

Pierce, who trains parents on how to use a home-school company’s curriculum, believes it’s a good idea to allow time for fun and for students to explore on their own, gaining hands-on experience doing things like studying fractions while baking. “Home-schoolers do those things all the time,” she said.

High school students are best equipped to learn independently in a remote environment, said Pierce, who has two adult children and is currently home-schooling a second-grader, a fifth-grader and a high school student.

Her experience shows that those in middle school or junior high can do the work independently, but they may need assistance organizing a plan for the day.

“They learn time management better when they are in school,” she said.

For the youngest children, especially those who are still learning to read, it may require more hands-on involvement and more frequent breaks. Parents who find themselves thrown into a stressful situation should understand that they’re implementing the school’s curriculum, so they have support and are not on as much of an island compared to a full-fledged home-school family, Pierce said.

She emphasizes that all families and students are in this together as the community shuts down because of COVID-19. Home-schoolers lose access to field trips, libraries, museums and enrichment activities.

“The home-schooling community is really trying to rally around all these kids and see how we can help,” she said.

For Simmons, one silver lining might emerge from this difficult time. Teachers, often underpaid and underappreciated, might gain a newfound respect from parents who see just what goes into teaching a child day after day.

“Parents are going to see there are extreme challenges that teachers face,” he said.