Health department encourages citizens to remain vigilant, responsible during pandemic

By Laura Schiermeier, Staff Writer
Posted 9/9/20

The Director of the Phelps-Maries Health Department last week told the Maries County Commission she thinks county residents should continue to “stay the course” by social distancing and …

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Health department encourages citizens to remain vigilant, responsible during pandemic

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The Director of the Phelps-Maries Health Department last week told the Maries County Commission she thinks county residents should continue to “stay the course” by social distancing and avoiding large groups of people.

Director Ashley Wann, who is an RN, said, “It’s everybody’s responsibility to do their part” during this time of the Covid-19 novel coronavirus global pandemic.

Wann was wearing a face mask at the Thursday morning county commission meeting. She was tired and said she’d been working for many hours already. As of that day, Sept. 3, Maries County had a total of 51 reported cases of the Covid-19 coronavirus with 12 active cases, no hospitalizations, and one death still pending determination.

Eastern District Commissioner Doug Drewel asked her who are the people who are getting the virus? Are they working people, or older people? Wann said they represent all types of people in various occupations and ages. He asked if once a person has it, can they get it again? Some people show immunity, she said, but there has been documented reinfection in both China and in the United States where people recovered from the virus but got it again.

“Where are we headed? Shutting down again?” Drewel asked. Wann said she does not know but thinks the area is in a hot spot zone right now. As of that day, one teacher and a student, a whole classroom, a bus route, and a church, all of the people involved were all under quarantine.

The Union Hill Church on Highway 42 east near Vienna had its congregation quarantined because someone present had symptoms of the virus and came to church anyway. Wann said, “This is not our first church. We’ve had several” in Phelps and Maries counties. When this happens they put the word out so anyone who was at that place at that time will know they need to quarantine for 14 days.

They discussed testing sites. Presiding Commissioner Victor Stratman said Dr. Dudenhoeffer sends patients to Jefferson City to be tested. Wann said the health department does not test people. In Rolla, at the CVS Pharmacy a test is free. Persons can register online and do the swab themselves in their car. Also, Rolla Family Clinic is doing swab in the mouth testing. She said the PCR test, which is the nasal swab, is the only confirmed swab test but the health department treats all positive tests the same, no matter what type of test it is. Test results go straight to the state and to the doctor. The health department has access to this system and can see the results right away.

Stratman asked what happens when a person has a positive test. Wann said the health department keeps track of them, calling the person every day to check on them. Persons who tested positive are quarantined for 10 days from onset of the symptoms and to be released need to not have fever for 24 hours and have recovered from their symptoms. Persons who have been in contact with a person who has the virus are quarantined for 14 days because that’s the maximum number of days it takes for a person to become symptomatic.

“We’re handling cases but the number of contacts is swamping us,” Wann told the commissioners. The health department has not hired any new staff members, but some part time workers are now working full time, and duties have been “shifted.” The department is utilizing some volunteers who are retired nurses.

Western District Commissioner Ed Fagre said the federal government wants counties to pay the health department. Stratman told Wann the department can apply for money reimbursed for Maries County expenses, even for payroll as long as it’s non-budgeted payroll. Wann said the health department staff has to put up with a lot of anger and people yelling at them when this should not be how it works. Staff members are cursed at. They deal with people who do not believe the virus exists or think it’s a hoax, and that the health department is fear mongering. “My poor staff members are harassed every hour,” she said.

When will this be over? Not until there is a useable, safe vaccine, Wann said. Drewel said it appears the virus is fatal for older people and people with existing health conditions.

Stratman asked if Wann will send him an update about the virus in Maries County each week and she said she would. However, the twice weekly graph she’s been posting that shows were in the county the people with the virus live, their sex and their age may be something she no longer has time to do. “I don’t know how much longer I can keep that up that chart.”

Wann said the primary focus now is on the schools. Statistically some kids well get the virus and take it home to their parents and grandparents.  Her advice to everyone is, “If you are sick, stay home.” Persons who test positive must stay home.

Stratman asked if there is medicine for the virus. Wann said the health department refers people to their doctors as giving advice for medicine “is not our role.” People who have the virus display a wide range of illness from not feeling bad, to being very sick and needing hospitalization.

Her current concern is the rapid rate of increase of infection in this area. At first in the early days of the virus, it hit the big cities. Now, it has spread into the rural areas. Everybody is getting back together after the long shutdown. What’s concerning is that people who know they are sick are going to an event anyway. Large gatherings are high infection events.

They are learning more about the virus as each day passes.

Contact tracing is important but is very time consuming. People go here and there and may not remember later all of the different people they came in contact with. There are so many factors. Stratman said everybody interacts with people uniquely every day.

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