Christian County Commission emergency meeting March 25, 2020

From left, Christian County Sheriff Brad Cole, Presiding Commissioner Ralph Phillips and Western District Commissioner Hosea Bilyeu at an emergency commission meeting held March 25, at the Christian County Historic Courthouse.

Christian County residents are ordered to stay at home to help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, a pandemic that has killed five Missourians and infected more than 250 as of March 25.

The Christian County Commission voted 3-0 to start a 30-day stay-at-home order at 12:01 a.m. March 26 (Thursday). The order largely mirrors orders enacted in Springfield, Greene County and Ozark.

“We are dealing with unknowns that are rapidly changing. I was hoping that what we implemented last week would deter the spread in our region,” Christian County Presiding Commissioner Ralph Phillips said. “It did the exact opposite of what I was hoping for,” Phillips said.

Christian County has an estimated population of more than 85,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 40,000 people are concentrated in and around Ozark and Nixa, where the population continues growing at near-record rates. It’s estimated that more than 80 percent of the Ozark and Nixa population commutes into Greene County for work each day.

Because of those commuter figures, Phillips said it was important for Springfield, Greene County, Christian County and other municipalities involved to work together for united stay-at-home orders.

At this point, the county commission is acting to reduce community spread of COVID-19.

“The last thing we want is for this thing to get out of control,” Phillips said.

“I think our objective has to be to reduce the transmission rate to as close to zero as possible,” Christian County Western District Commissioner Hosea Bilyeu said, adding that government actions taken now can buy health care providers time to handle a possible influx of COVID-19 patients on top of their normal emergency and non-emergency patients.

“The greatest problem we face in all of this is the potential for a collapsing health care system,” Bilyeu said. “The only way to protect our health care system from collapse, I think, is to reduce the transmission rate as much as possible.”

Like Phillips, Bilyeu and Eastern District Commissioner Mike Robertson are concerned that COVID-19 and any governmental orders related to COVID-19 will lead to long term consequences for the Christian County economy.

“I hate it, but we need to take measures, stronger measures,” Robertson said. “This seems to be the direction that we need to go.”

The county commission order defines two key terms that will likely be used frequently throughout the 30-day period, “essential activities,” and “essential businesses.”

Essential activities are defined in the law as tasks essential to a person’s health and safety, obtaining necessary services and supplies such as groceries and household goods, outdoor activities such as running or hiking, performing work at an essential business or caring for “a family member, close personal acquaintance or pet in another household.”

Essential businesses include construction and home repair, health care and pharmacies, veterinary care, food, shelter and social services, mortuary services, home-based care for adults, law enforcement, public safety, security, emergency management, hazardous material handling, agriculture, farming, fishing, grocers, convenience stores, restaurants with carry-out, drive-through or delivery services, energy, electricity, propane, waste management, public works, vehicle repair, communications infrastructure, media services, information technology, inspective services for construction, hotels and motels, critical manufacturing for essential businesses, legal services, lawn and landscaping, building supply stores, laundromats, nursing homes, mailing services, educational activities, child care, and religious activities with 10 or fewer persons to support distance and/or virtual services.

“The purpose is not to shut down small businesses, not to shut people’s lives down, it’s to try to get this thing under control,” Phillips said.

Non-essential businesses not defined in the law are allowed to perform “minimum basic operations.” That is defined as minimum necessary work to maintain the value of the business’s inventory and facilities, process payroll and ensure security.

Persons found guilty of violating the stay at home order would be guilty of a misdemeanor crime.

“I will encourage patience, calmness. It’s out time to be leaders. We need to pick each other up, not beat each other up,” Phillips said. “We’re not trying to keep people from doing the necessities. Just have common sense. If you don’t have to get out in the general public, don’t.”

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