Bill McMurray mask mandate extension picture

St. Joseph Mayor Bill McMurray speaks with reporters after signing an order to require face coverings in most indoor areas throughout the city.

St. Joseph Mayor Bill McMurray has signed an emergency order mandating face coverings in most indoor areas, excluding residences, when a 6-foot social distance cannot be maintained.

News-Press NOW obtained an email from McMurray to the St. Joseph City Council indicating the order would become effective at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday.

As of Tuesday, Mosaic Life Care reported 36 hospitalizations related to COVID-19, which is a new high for the hospital.

Hospitalizations rose by 11 from the previous day’s report. McMurray’s order gained the support of Deputy Mayor and Councilman Kent “Spanky” O’Dell, who previously voted against such an ordinance.

O’Dell apologized to health-care workers at a press conference on Tuesday, as he’s been the swing vote on mask-related issues.

“And I didn’t know this could happen so fast,” O’Dell said. “But here on Tuesday we’re at 36 (people hospitalized) and it’s just going too fast.”

Prior to the order’s signing, Mosaic Life Care physician Dr. Jane Schwabe sent an email to all city council members describing an “over full” ICU. Schwabe also called for the type of mandate McMurray later signed.

Madison Davis, Gary Roach, PJ Kovac and Marty Novak, four council members who have voted against any sort of mask mandate, didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story. Without O’Dell’s support, the voting group would be unable to overturn the order.

Brian Myers, perhaps the most vocal city council member in support of a broad mask mandate, said in an email that he supported the mayor’s decision. Brenda Blessing and Russell Moore, the remaining council members, also didn’t respond to a request for comment.

St. Joseph’s mandate lags behind similar orders enacted in Platte County and Maryville, Missouri, in July. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called for the use of masks since at least April.

To date, 19 people have died from COVID-19 in Buchanan County. In July, when the orders were enacted by nearby governments, Buchanan County drew the scrutiny of the White House because of the county’s infection rate.

“As I’ve told you before, it’s about the numbers,” McMurray said at the Tuesday press conference. “Back in June and July, we didn’t go from 16 to 36 people in the hospital.”

McMurray said the key metric he tracks is the hospitalization rate, something he told News-Press NOW in July.

Under the mayor’s order, only owners and managers of establishments can be fined for violating the rule, not members of the public who refuse to comply. The St. Joseph Health Department has been charged with enforcing the mayor’s previous mask orders.

Debra Bradley, St. Joseph’s health director, said she didn’t know how many enforcement actions her department has taken on previous mask mandates.

Buchanan County officials now will have to decide if the order will be expanded to rural areas. County commissioners told News-Press NOW they intend to decide the issue within 24 hours, but the vote could be pushed to Thursday because of public notice requirements.

Matt Hoffmann can be reached at matt.hoffmann@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NpNowHoffmann.