The Perry County Commission on Friday issued a statement saying it had no intention of issuing a mask mandate or shutdown order, but again urging county residents to follow health department guidelines to help slow the spread of COVID-19, especially during the coming holiday season.
“Although 2020 is almost over, our battle against COVID-19 is not,” the statement reads. “In March and April, the virus scared us. Through the summer it was a nuisance, and this fall it has exploded in numbers this community has not yet seen. We are all frustrated and weary as we shatter daily records of confirmed positives over and over.”
The statement was issued in part because of the increasing number of positive cases of the novel coronavirus in Perry County — which as of Friday, stood at 1,609 cases, with 1,333 recoveries and 11 deaths, leaving 265 active cases being monitored by the health department — the upcoming holidays, and the increasing strain on Perry County Memorial Hospital.
“Perry County is the midst of a major COVID-19 outbreak, and the local medical system is dangerously close to being overloaded,” the commission stated. “Our regional medical professionals are struggling to meet the demands of caring for those sick with COVID-19, and other non-COVID related illness.”
In the statement, Perry County Presiding Commissioner Mike Sauer stressed that the commission has urged county residents to “listen to the medical experts, and do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19” since the pandemic began.
“The Perry County Commission does not need to enact a mask mandate or order our area non-essential businesses to shutter their doors in order to accomplish this,” the statement reads. “We need only to rely on the hardworking, caring people of this community to use good judgment, and do the right thing without forced mandates and county-wide orders.”
Despite that, the statement emphasized the importance of masks, social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.
“We are strongly urging the people of our town to follow CDC guidelines and the recommendations developed by the Perry County Health Department to keep themselves and their loved ones safe and free of disease. We implore our citizens to maintain social distance, frequently wash their hands and to wear a mask while in the presence of others. And most importantly, we remind you to stay home if you’re sick.”
In the statement, the commission pointed out that Perry County Memorial Hospital has been operating at near capacity for several weeks, as are most hospitals throughout the state.
“Exhausted doctors and nurses are pleading for our community’s cooperation as they do their best to operate under these taxing circumstances,” the statement reads. “Until we have a vaccine, we must learn to live with COVID-19. It is not going away, and we must do our part to flatten the curve, just as we did in March. We must not be complacent. We are asking everyone in Perry County to step up and do their part this holiday season. Find a way to gather safely, while continuing to protect the most vulnerable of our population.”
Friday’s statement from the county commission mirrored a statement from Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services director Dr. Randall Williams, who said Thursday that, with Thanksgiving approaching rapidly, people should be ready to change their plans if they become ill. Anyone intending to travel or celebrate with a group of people outside their household should try to “semi-isolate themselves” for about a week ahead of time.
“If you do that, and you wake up the day before with a sore throat, can’t taste, can’t smell, and a bad headache, you don’t need to go,” Williams said.
Friday’s statement came on the heels of a similar statement issued last week in which the commissioners, along with Perryville Mayor Ken Baer, made a similar request. Since that statement was issued on Nov. 12, the number of cases in Perry County has increased by nearly 300 and set several records for active cases.
On Wednesday, Perry County Health Department director Sylvia Forester told the Republic-Monitor that now was “the time to act.”
“If you haven't been taking precautions, you need to now,” Forester said. “There's no excuse not to try to do your part. The little things make a big difference, especially when everyone is doing them. Wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands, stay home if you are sick, stay home if you have COVID-19 or are a close contact to a positive individual.”
On Thursday, Perry County Memorial Hospital interim CEO Chris Wibbenmeyer said the 25-bed hospital is on the verge of being overwhelmed.
“PCMH is having a very difficult time transferring patients to tertiary care centers,” said Wibbenmeyer, who added that the hospital is treating eight COVD-positive patients, something they’d hoped to avoid when the pandemic began. “The current spike has overwhelmed all hospitals. Beds are full, staff are working at greater than full capacity thus facilities cannot accept our transfers. We have recently had to transfer as far as Columbia and Kansas City, via fixed-wing aircraft.”
Last week, Herb Kuhn, executive director of the Missouri Hospital Association, wrote a letter to Gov. Mike Parson warning that the pandemic has grown beyond the ability of local health officials to control it.
“The wolf is at the door,” Kuhn wrote. “Missouri’s hospitals urge you to issue a statewide masking mandate. A mask mandate may be unappealing to some, but it has become necessary. We urge your immediate action on this issue.”
On Thursday, Parson — who has maintained a stance that mask mandates are not the province of state government since the pandemic began — signed an executive order extending the state of emergency in Missouri through March 31, 2021.
“Missouri and the Midwest region remain central to the extreme COVID-19 outbreak our country is currently experiencing,” Parson said. “If we do not slow the spread of the virus, our health care system will quickly become overwhelmed. This creates a major risk not only for COVID-19 patients but anyone requiring health care support, from emergency situations such as car accidents to the treatment of serious health conditions such as cancer.”
During a news conference Thursday, Parson said he wasn’t surprised by the hospital association’s request.
“It doesn’t change anything, either,” Parson said. “I am still going to work with the hospital association. I am still going to support those organizations.”
He said he’s never been against wearing face masks.
“I have been very clear on that from the beginning and that has not changed,” Parson said. “What I am opposed to is mandates from this position to the people of this state.”
Parson also offered some sobering statistics regarding the virus in Missouri.
“The first eight months of COVID-19, all the cases combined, there was more cases in October than in those first 8 months,” Parson said. “The first half of November, the first 15 days of November, was more than the numbers for the full month of October. It will put a stress on the system if we don’t change the behavior of how we conduct ourselves.”
In October, DHSS reported 57,073 new COVID-19 infections and, through Thursday, 74,636 new infections so far this month.