Tracy: Authority to issue sheltering 'orders' doesn't lie at county level

While several Missouri cities and counties have issued “stay at home” orders to help curb the spread of COVID-19, no such order is expected in Cape Girardeau County.

“There aren’t really any ordinances or orders we can promulgate that are enforceable,” said Clint Tracy, Cape Girardeau County’s presiding commissioner.

Tracy made his remarks during a sparsely-attended meeting of the County Commission on Thursday at which everyone in attendance practiced “social distancing” by sitting at least 6 feet from one another.

“You have local governments issuing orders and ordinances (to stay home) they really don’t have the authority to do,” he said, explaining that at best all a county government can do is “suggest” people stay home and avoid contact with other people in order to help stop or slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“That’s the sternest of messages we can put out,” Tracy said.

“It gets confusing because across the state it seems everybody is doing things a little bit different and throwing out terms like ‘orders’ and ‘ordinances’ when they really should be looking at their ability to make those orders and their ability to enforce them,” he said.

Gov. Mike Parson has signed an executive order last week closing schools, limiting gatherings of more than 10 people and restricting other activities, including nursing home visits and restaurant dining until at least April 6, but it stopped short of requiring Missourians to stay home during the COVID-19 outbreak during that time span.

“Once he declares a state of emergency, his powers are pretty broad,” Tracy said. “He has a lot more tools in the box than we do at the county level. After speaking with our attorneys, we just don’t have the same police power and authority that the governor does.”

While the county cannot require residents to stay home, it can recommend people follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines related to coronavirus precautions.

“We’re staying with our message to people to limit their exposure,” Tracy said. “If you don’t have to be out, don’t be out. That doesn’t mean you can’t do the things you need to do. Go to the grocery store, get gas, do the things you need to do to survive.”

By following the CDC’s recommendations to limit potential exposure to coronavirus, residents can help health care providers maintain an adequate supply of materials and other resources they need to care for those who contract the disease.

“We can’t afford to have everybody sick at the same time,” Tracy said. “We only have so many beds and we don’t want to put everybody in (the hospital) at the same time. We have two hospitals here. We’ve got doctors and we’ve got nurses. Don’t put them under more stress by not taking responsible actions and not being responsible yourself.”

For more COVID-19 information from Cape Girardeau County visit www.KeepCapeStrong.com.

Updated county cases

As of Thursday afternoon, area counties were reporting more confirmed COVID-19 cases, but the numbers remained small.

* Cape Girardeau County: 6.

* Scott: 1.

* Perry: 4.

* Bollinger: 1.

Saint Francis Medical Center and Southeast Hospital reported a total of eight virus cases Thursday afternoon. That total included one resident of Bollinger County and one of Stoddard County. Of the six Cape Girardeau County cases, one person is hospitalized, and five self-quarantined. One of the five has subsequently recovered, officials said.

In the state, confirmed cases topped 500, with eight deaths.

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