On Monday, I did something that I don’t normally do — I tuned into the St. Joseph City Council meeting.
They were voting on extending the mask mandate in St. Joseph for another 90 days and, if past council meetings indicated anything, it was going to be a barnburner of a gathering, with arguments about COVID, masks, etc.
It turns out it wasn’t. With a limited audience and the council all in masks, the group unanimously passed a mask mandate extension. Where past meetings were met with animosity, skepticism and flat-out wrong information, this was surprisingly sober, cordial and well-reasoned (in part because of Councilman Marty Novak’s personal story about contracting the virus and the effect it had on him and his wife). With COVID numbers surging, you could feel the weight of it in the room.
In May, I wrote in this column that St. Joseph needed to play it safe so that we could get bars, restaurants and the arts and entertainment scene going again. While we might have been doing it for awhile, I get the sense that COVID fatigue has set in. When I go to gas stations in St. Joseph or when I go to East Hills Shopping Center, I still see people either not wearing masks or wearing them improperly and not keeping their distance from others. There are bars in St. Joseph that proudly show people not wearing masks indoors.
This all makes me worried for the holidays. With more people hospitalized with COVID than ever in the area, I know there will still be families and friends getting together for Thanksgiving here.
My plea is this: Please don’t. If you want things to go back to whatever the new definition of “normal” is, tell your family to stay home and take a year off this holiday season. I can attest that it’s a hard conversation to have, as I had to have it with my mom and dad, who never miss a chance to get the Gaug family together. But it’s not worth it to potentially get them sick or spread it to others. It only ramps up numbers and increases the chances of another shutdown.
In the St. Joseph arts and entertainment scene, bars have seen smaller audiences because of COVID restrictions. Some of St. Joseph’s own musicians have been public about catching COVID-19, with a 38-year-old musician having a stroke because of it. The Missouri Theater and St. Joseph Civic Arena have been dormant for months.
These things only get worse as more people flout rules and mandates that are meant to keep us safe. The rule breakers not only hurt themselves, but entire communities and their economies in misguided attempts to make a point.