Health Dept. Forum Draws Big Audience

By MARK EVANS

mevans@stegenherald.com

Nearly 450 people logged in to a virtual forum on the COVID-19 crisis, put on by the Ste. Genevieve County Health Department on Nov. 17.

Originally scheduled as a public hearing at the community center the event was quickly switched to virtual, due to the very nature of the pandemic being discussed.

Board president Bob Bach, board members Carl Kinsky and Dr. Matthew Bosner, along with provisional administrator Jeanette Wood took part in the meeting. They made opening statements, then fielded questions that went through University of Missouri Extension’s Estrella Carmona.

“We have a local public health crisis that within the past number of weeks that has escalated by a significant factor beyond what we experienced this summer,” Bach said, in opening the forum. ‘We’re asking for your help.”

That included continuing to wear masks.

“COVID-19 will, in no uncertain terms, strengthen its grip during the winter months,” Bach said. “It’s already begun. We’ve experienced an unusual summer, compared to our neighbors.”

Bach stressed that while the county has maintained a small number of deaths and hospitalizations, this is subject to change. He emphasized what local and national officials have preached since March:

“Wear a mask, maintain a distance when interacting with friends, neighbors and when out in the community, keep your hands clean, make a concerted effort to not gather in large numbers. If you feel sick, stay home.”

While two vaccines are on the horizon, Bach stressed that “We cannot wait for a shot in the arm to pull us from this emergency.”

A mask, he said, “provides two-way protection.” Bach called it a “front-line combat weapon” against a “cruel” enemy.

Repertory droplets cause much of the spread, including asymptomatic people.

“We all benefit,” Bach said.

He named several possible scenarios, in which local hospitals could be overwhelmed. He said this has happened in other Missouri counties.

A Phizer vaccine has about a 95 percent effectiveness, but has some drawbacks, Bach said. This includes storage, where it has to be kept in extreme cold and has a short lifespan.

He praised frontlinr health and emergency workers as well as local school personnel for going above and beyond.

He also urged people to get flu shots and to do what is right, as far as taking precautions.

“It’s my firm belief that COVID-19 success of failure depends with us,” Bach said.

Bosner then shared up to date figures, comparing Ste. Genevieve County to surrounding counties. Its 964 total cases were catching up with Perry County’s 1,325 total, while the percent of population that has tested positive  was 5.5 percent, compared to 6.9 percent for Perry County, 6.3 percent  for St. Francois, 5.8 percent for Cape Girardeau County, 4.3 percent for St. Louis County and 4.2 percent for Jefferson County.

“What that means is over five out of 100 people in our county have tested positive for COVID,” he said. “That really is quite astounding.”

On Oct. 16, the figure was just 1.7 percent for the county.

“So you can see that the cases have increased by three fold since just a month ago,” Bosner said.

He said Missouri has experienced a dramatic increase in serious cases.

At SGCMH, Bosner said, cases 25 to 50 percent of in-patients have COVID-related diseases and a higher number in the emergency room.

He said the hospital is having “a difficult time” transferring COVID patients to other hospitals.

“This is becoming a much more serious problem, especially for our critically ill patients,” he said.

Kinsky added that all Americans need to “stand together against” COVID, as “a patriotic duty,” wearing masks and following other safety precautions.

“I want  to mention the one word that nobody wants to mention: Mandates,” he said. “The key thing is to get us to wear masks. If we will wear masks because it’s our patriotic duty, then there won’t be a need for a mandate.”

He urged residents to follow the guidelines “to protect our neighbors and our whole county,” and tied it in with the recently passed Veteran’s Day.

“When I think of  all the things the veterans have done to make America free, it’s the least we can do to protect our neighbors and protect ourselves,” he said.

Wood agreed that wearing masks and getting flu and pneumonia shots are important. She also warned about large holiday gatherings should be avoided for a year.

“Let’s make sure, when we all get back together, there won’t be any empty spaces at the table,” she stressed.