St. Joseph Mayor Bill McMurray is maintaining his stance on reopening the city, despite Buchanan County appearing on White House documents and scrutiny from national news.
According to government documents obtained by NBC News, Buchanan County appears among the top 10 counties “with increasing cases.”
“If our hospital numbers spike, I’d be happy to talk on national news and say we’re changing course,” McMurray said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people that are in business that are very concerned about losing their businesses.”
President Donald Trump’s plan for reopening localities calls for a two-week decline in overall COVID-19 cases, while McMurray’s amended order began the process while cases were still increasing. As of Friday, 502 cases of COVID-19 were reported in Buchanan County, according to the City of St. Joseph Health Department.
“In St. Joseph, Missouri, local officials have been agitating to open everything up,” Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” said during her May 4 show while displaying a graphic of national “hot spots.”
Instead of focusing on overall case numbers as the White House’s plan calls for, McMurray told News-Press NOW that he’s more concerned with the hospitalization rate, which has been a course approved by medical experts he’s talked to.
“I’m concerned about people getting sick, but as long as you have 10 to 13 in the hospital, you know it tells me that a lot of these cases are not serious,” McMurray said.
He added that the city government would “batten down the hatches” if the hospitalization rate showed an increase. According to McMurray, 12 people are hospitalized in St. Joseph with COVID-19 and two have died.
The mayor amended his shelter-in-place order after an advisory vote by City Council members during a work session was effectively tied. McMurray cast the deciding vote during the meeting, but ultimately has the unilateral authority on the order, and cannot be overturned except by a majority vote of the council.
Brian Myers, an at-large City Council member, told News-Press NOW that while he respects the mayor’s willingness to try and reach a consensus, he disagrees with the mayor’s decision. Myers voted “no” alongside Brenda Blessing, Kent O’Dell and Russell Moore. Councilmembers Madison Davis, P.J Kovac, Marty Novak and Gary Roach all voted to move forward with reopening.
“That’s probably not going to happen,” Myers said of tightening restrictions should the hospitalization rate rise. He cited the warmer weather and the public’s assimilation to the newer, looser rules.
Both Myers and McMurray agreed, it’s ultimately up to the personal responsibility of citizens to stop the spread of COVID-19. While McMurray said he wouldn’t order the general public to wear masks while out, he said it’s “strongly encouraged,” citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.