HANNIBAL, Mo. — Flanked by mayors from Quincy, Ill., and Keokuk, Iowa, Hannibal Mayor James Hark said Wednesday that he is strongly encouraging residents of Northeast Missouri to wear a face mask whenever they are out in public and not able to maintain social distance for the next 21 days.
"I am not coming out with a mandate or sending the police to your door. That is not the type of thing that I am looking for. I am looking for people to exercise self-discipline," said Hark.
"There are those who do not want to and there are those who outright refuse to (wear a mask), and that's OK if they want to put themselves in that position, but you have to think about your fellow human being. Are you willing to gamble someone else's well-being for your own personal beliefs?" Hark asked.
Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore issued his own 21-day challenge to residents.
"This is a worthwhile effort, and let's see what kind of effect this could have on the virus in our community," Moore said.
In recent days, the number of COVID-19 cases in both Northeast Missouri and West-Central Illinois have spiked.
In Marion County, about 100 people have tested positive for the virus. Of those testing positive, eight are hospitalized and 88 people have active infections. Fourteen people have recovered from the virus, which is a status after a patient has twice tested negative for the virus.
In Lewis County, public health officials also have reported an increase of COVID-19 cases. On June 1, the county had seven total cases. As of July 22, that number had jumped to 23 positive cases, including three new ones. Those most recently diagnosed with the virus range in age from 20 to 80. Two of the cases are household related and one is non-travel related.
In Pike County, health officials say 57 people have tested positive for the virus. Of those, 40 have recovered.
In Adams County, 281 people have tested positive for the virus. This includes 251 people who have tested positive since June 1 and 117 people who have tested positive in the last 10 days.
"A lot of times we work as individual communities, but this is a situation where individuality is great, but we are stronger as a region," said Hark, who added that with 63% of Marion County's population being Hannibal residents, he is concerned about how the virus is spreading.
Blessing Health System's Chief of Medicine Dr. Chris Solaro and Dr. Erik Meidl, an internal medicine physician at Hannibal Clinic, agreed that masks are an effective way of preventing virus spread.
"The preliminary studies have shown that masks are 70% effective in transmission prevention when wearing a mask and that you are 60 to 70% less likely to get the virus from other people when wearing a mask," Meidl said.
Solaro said, "All this virus cares about is getting from one person to another. If we can stop that process, then we can stop the pandemic."
"The effectiveness of a mask is something that we have learned about with this virus," Solaro added. "Yes, they are uncomfortable, and no body likes to wear them, but what we have found with this virus is that people can transmit the virus with no symptoms, they can transmit it before they develop symptoms, and some people can transmit the virus and never develop symptoms. You can't look around in a crowd of people and pick out somebody who looks sick with the virus. Wearing a mask is the most effective, and also likely the most cost effective, way to protect ourselves and to protect one another."
He also reiterated that wearing a mask does not lead to carbon dixoide poisoning or other potential harmful side effects.
Moore said that while none of the three cities is considering imposing a mask mandate or travel restrictions between Hannibal, Keokuk and Quincy, city officials are advocating for residents to "be good neighbors."
"What we are advocating for is that when people leave Quincy that they remember they are not immune to catching the virus," Moore said. "When folks to come to Quincy to shop or to dine, that they remember to bring a mask."
Hark agreed, saying, "We just want to make sure our residents are healthy and have the potential to go to work. No one here wants to see businesses close again or to see restrictions come down. I think we can beat this, let's give this a little time. Give me 21 days and let's see whether the trend starts to slow or diminishes. If not, then just like any other plan, we will regroup and attack it again. We will continue to go after this virus."