Health Dept. Administrator Aims To Clear Up Misconceptions About County’s COVID-19 Actions

By SANDRA BELL
Ste. Genevieve Co. Health Dept.
The Ste. Genevieve County Health Department would like to express deep appreciation for the county-wide support we have received from residents, businesses and community leaders during the response stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As we enter into the recovery stage and begin to open businesses and the community, these same people are continuing to support us. In-depth discussions have been held, and the collaborative decisions and recovery plan have been widely accepted.
There appears to be a minority group of individuals in the county who have become quite vocal, angry, and hostile on social media, stating misinformation and making personal attacks. Despite an attempt to speak personally with an individual who seems to be fueling this methodology of presenting public opinion, I have not been able to communicate with him. I will not engage in a war of words with individuals on social media.
The intent of this post is to address at one time some of the statements this group is sharing to the public. I will start with the comments directed at me personally.
— There needs to be a restructuring at the health department, and the administrator needs to be voted out of office:
I am not an elected official. I was hired 11 years ago by an appointed board of directors. The original board members who hired me are no longer serving on the current board of directors. However, the current board has not seen any reason to terminate my employment and are not in disagreement with my management of the COVID-19 response and recovery.
— I am not in the profession of healthcare and do not know anything about healthcare:
I have been a registered nurse for almost four decades with most of my career spent in public health. I have never been employed by a bureau of tourism.
— I do not live in Ste Genevieve County and do not care about the county:
While it is true that I do not reside in the county, it absolutely cannot be said I don’t care about the county, if one would just look at the community programs and partnerships that have been implemented under my leadership. Residency is not a requirement for employment [in the county health department], only for an elected office [such as the board].
— I have no life and don’t care about others:
I am blessed with a wonderful husband, three great adult children who are married to three good people, and best of all, blessed with three beautiful grandchildren with a fourth — also expected to be beautiful — to arrive in August. We are also blessed with a very large, close, extended family.
— I don’t care about sports or racing:
While I am not a diehard sports fan due to other personal interests, my husband, children and grandchildren have all been involved in sports, which I fully support. I grew up in Indiana, and my family is now a third-generation supporter of the Indy 500. I attended races all through my growing years, and my nephew has his dream job working for the speedway. This year’s race has been rescheduled for August.
— I have no concept of the impact the COVID-19 virus has on a community:
This is false professionally and personally. To save time I will not address the professional concepts.
Personally, my son and daughter-in-law own a candy shop in a small town in Indiana. They have been closed to the public and are struggling to keep their business. Family members have been ill with COVID-19, the youngest being just 1 year old. My sister-in-law lost her father to the virus. I will stop there.
Now to address the community issue that is at the focus of attention.
Community leaders have been working on guidelines to enable the county to successfully progress through the recovery phase of this pandemic. We are trying to find the balance between economic recovery, and the health of the public. If we progress too quickly the surge of infection can be overwhelming. If we progress too slowly, the decline in economy can also be devastating. We ask for understanding that continued surveillance will provide a clear understanding of the success for the measures implemented to move forward to full recovery.
While community events and activities were planned for early May, it was decided by almost everyone to postpone events the first two weeks in May to evaluate the impact after increasing public activities.
The summer music series has a delayed start. The community center delayed its opening to members only in a limited capacity to May 18. The library will be doing curbside services only. The waterpark board decided to open in June instead of May. And some Memorial Day celebrations are on hold until after the two-week time frame, and evaluation on the effectiveness of all actions taken by everyone.
The decision to hold summer sports was made by individuals in charge of the summer programs. Churches are making plans to adhere to social distancing during limited participation in services.
These measures were addressed at the April 23 County Commission meeting. As I was leaving the meeting, a representative for the race committee was coming in to speak with the commissioners. I was asked to return to the meeting. A respectful conversation was held and it was my understanding the message to delay, not cancel, the initial racing event was clearly conveyed. The claims being made that the committee was to cancel racing is not true.
The issues of conflict seem to be in the area of misunderstanding are:
1. People are not to leave the county.
2. People are not allowed to come into the county.
3. Only inside activities are allowed.
4. All outside activities are to be canceled.
This is far from the truth. It is understood people from outside and within the county will travel across county lines. They already do. The community is asked to maintain social distancing, personal hygiene precautions, and limit the number of people gathered together based on the state formula provided. Health department staff have been helping business owners adapt their place of business to help maintain these guidelines.
High school sports, senior year celebrations, school activities, funerals, weddings, and family gatherings have been canceled or postponed resulting in major adjustments by many.
Ste Genevieve County has had a significantly lower number of cases than our surrounding counties. The cooperation and compliance from residents and businesses are the main factor in the low rate of disease in the county. Together we can move forward and recover from the economic impact of this pandemic while maintaining minimal health tragedy.
[Sandra Bell is the administrator for the Ste. Genevieve County Health Department.]
[Editor’s Note: Bell added on Monday that the Ste. Genevieve racing committee attended the County Commission that day. She said the department will work with the committee to set up a safe environment to begin the racing season.]

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