© 2022 University of Missouri - KBIA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Rolla Enacts Mask Mandate As Coronavirus Cases Surge And Overwhelm Hospital

Phelps-Maries County Health Department Director Ashley Want addresses the Rolla City Council, advocating for a mask mandate.
Phelps-Maries County Health Department Director Ashley Want addresses the Rolla City Council, advocating for a mask mandate.

ROLLA — Starting Friday, Rolla residents will have to wear masks in all public places, follow social distancing guidelines and limit large venues to 25% capacity.

The city council approved the rules on a 9-3 vote at a special meeting Monday night that included more than two hours of heated and divided public comment.

“Employees like mine will get displaced by this, because there is not enough revenue and business coming in to provide them an income,” said Rob Webster, owner of Rob and Cricket’s Tater Patch, a Rolla restaurant.

While some small-business owners and residents challenged the proposal, members of the health community painted a picture of a medical system at its breaking point.

Ed Clayton, CEO of Phelps Medical Center, said the intensive care unit in Rolla’s only hospital has been filled with COVID-19 patients for 10 days and has diverted local patients to other hospitals, in and out of state.

“Make no mistake, we are overwhelmed,” Clayton said.

Several doctors and public health officials implored the council to pass the restrictions.

“Masks are not the end all, be all,” said Ashley Wann, director of the Phelps-Maries County Health Department. “The mask is part of the puzzle if used correctly, consistently, and in conjunction with other mitigation strategies.”

Phelps County had limited exposure to the coronavirus early in the year, with cases in the single digits for months. But over the past six weeks, active cases doubled to more than 500, and deaths increased from 16 to 42.

Council member Marie Allen voted for the measure and said asking people to do the right thing isn’t enough.

“We’ve been recommending strongly that people show personal responsibility for how many months is it now? And the hospital is overrun. They are standing in front of us saying, ‘We cannot care for this community,’” Allen said.

The new rules begin at 6 a.m. Friday and are to remain in effect until Feb. 2.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Jonathan Ahl joined Iowa Public Radio as News Director in July 2008. He leads the news and talk show teams in field reporting, feature reporting, audio documentaries, and talk show content. With more than 17 years in public media, Jonathan is a nationally award-winning reporter that has worked at public radio stations in Macomb, Springfield and Peoria, IL. He served WCBU-FM in Peoria as news director before coming to Iowa. He also served as a part-time instructor at Bradley University teaching journalism and writing courses. Jonathan is currently serving a second term as president of PRNDI ââ