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Cape Girardeau County declares public health emergency, no ‘stay in place’ order expected

The Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center released a proclamation declaring a public health emergency in the county regarding COVID-19. The County Commissioners approved the proclamation during their meeting on March 30.

The proclamation “strongly encourages” citizens to limit their public exposure, limit gatherings to groups of 10 or fewer, stay at home when ill, wash their hands frequently, avoid non-essential travel, stay at least 6 feet from others and support local businesses while staying safe.

Along with County Commissioners Clint Tracy, Paul Koeper and Charlie Herbst, the declaration includes the signatures of Public Health Center Director Jane Wersman, Jackson Mayor Dwain Hahs and Cape Girardeau Mayor Bob Fox.

Despite the emergency status in the county, Presiding Commissioner Tracy said on March 26 that the County has no plans of declaring a stay-in-place order. The day he made this remark, a stay-in-place order went into effect in Perry County.

The Perry County ordered its citizens to stay at home except for essential activities such as visiting health care providers and buying groceries. It also ordered that non-essential businesses cease normal operations unless the work can be done from home.

Violation of the Perry County order could result in a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one-year in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. Several other counties in the state have also enacted similar orders.

Tracy said a stay-at-home order should be done at the state level, as the County does not have the resources to properly enforce such an order.

“We don’t have any gates to put up saying this county is closed for business,” Tracy added. “That’s just not how our government is run.”

He added that the governor has broad powers in declaring an emergency and making action to mitigate that emergency.

“After speaking with our attorneys, the County just doesn’t have that same police power or authority that the governor has at the state, so there aren’t any ordinances or orders that we can promulgate that are enforceable,” Tracy said.

Multiple calls to the Governor’s Office to confirm options for counties during this emergency were not returned.

“The sternest of messages that we can put out is to limit your public exposure,” Tracy said. “If you don’t need to be out, don’t be.”

In other action

The new Cape Girardeau County Courthouse may have to wait for Missouri Vocational Enterprises (MVE) to finish installing work stations for the building to be ready to open.

MVE, who built much of the courthouse’s furniture, was pulled from the work site on Tuesday, March 24, due to the coronavirus. While MVE is still doing work at the department of corrections, all installations were cancelled with a tentative return date of April 6.

Herbst said county workers are installing the courtroom furniture themselves, but MVE installs the work station cubicles for the courthouse. Herbst said MVE was around 80 percent done installing the cubicles, but they will have to come back to finish the work.

The April 6 date is past the original April 1 completion date with Penzel Construction. Koeper said this delay is no fault of Penzel and that the construction company will be substantially done with the project on the first.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past four years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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