Healthcare professionals throughout the state spoke out on Friday, Nov. 13, to call on the public and on state officials to do more to help slow down the dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in Missouri. That state is now averaging nearly 4,000 new cases daily with 2,525 people hospitalized at the end of last week.
A group of healthcare leaders in the area joined the effort by releasing a joint statement on Friday. Those urging local action were: Stuart Gipson, CEO, Your Community Health Center; Matt Porter, MD, medical director, Your Community Health Center; Sean McEnaney, MD, Physician Section chair, Mercy Clinic Rolla Region; Charlene Rioux, director of operations, Mercy Clinic Rolla Region; Edward Clayton, CEO, Phelps Health; Nathan Ratchford, MD, chief medical officer, Phelps Health; and Erik AuBuchon, DO, chief of staff, Phelps Health.
“As physicians and leaders of the hospital and health systems in the Phelps County region, we are united in fighting the spread of COVID-19. Every region of the state is experiencing increases in positive cases, and hospitalizations are surging,” the joint statement read. “The spike of positive COVID-19 cases is putting incredible stress on doctors, nurses, therapists, custodians, food services and support staff who continue to suffer additional stress and risk their own infection, illness and mortality on a daily basis.
“Phelps Health, Mercy and Your Community Health Center will continue requiring staff, patients and visitors to follow public safety protocols, including wearing masks, conducting wellness screenings upon entry to our facilities and limiting visitors. We urge everyone to do their part, which includes following established guidelines: wear a mask, maintain a distance of at least six feet from other individuals, avoid social gatherings and practice frequent hand washing to keep your friends, neighbors, family and our healthcare workers safe.
“Every Phelps County (area) resident needs to join us in taking the necessary steps to prevent the spread of this deadly disease. We also urge every community leader to continue to promote and support the message that compliance with the above stated guidelines is necessary to help prevent catastrophic increases in hospital admissions.
“We draw on data and guidance from public health experts to guide our decision-making. By taking these measures, you can help keep our healthcare facilities from becoming overwhelmed and remain safe places for patients to receive both routine and emergency care. Please support our dedicated and courageous healthcare staff as they continue the fight against COVID-19. Together, we can keep this dangerous virus under control.”
Also on Friday, the head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force said it had become “painfully obvious” that individual behavior alone is not enough to curb the spread of the virus.
“Let me be really, really clear on this: A statewide mask mandate is needed to save lives across the state,” said Dr. Alex Garza, Task Force commander, adding that the virus is now so widespread that it’s no longer effective to leave the decision up to individual counties and municipalities. “We need the state to act.”
The day before, Missouri Governor Mike Parson said a statewide mask mandate has been discussed for months, but said he believes it is up to individual Missourians to wear them.
“We’ve got to do our part to protect one another,” Parson said, stressing his campaign promise to protect individual freedom. “No government’s gonna do that for you. You have to take that upon yourself.”
Parson said during a news conference that the “vast majority” of Missouri residents are already required to wear masks, adding that “it’s up to the local levels to be able to do that, I mean, that’s why you have elections.”
A coalition of health care workers in Missouri says the situation has become so severe that a statewide response is needed to slow the rapid spread of the virus. In addition to a mask mandate, the coalition asked the governor to institute a statewide stay-at-home order and begin working with emergency managers to plan for when hospitals become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
Garza said Friday that, based on the current rate of new cases, hospitals in the St. Louis region will run out of beds during the first week of December and that means they won’t be able to accept critically ill patients from across the state. Some health care systems have already had to turn away dozens of patients seeking transfers from rural hospitals in Missouri. The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported that Mercy health care system received 129 requests for transfers from outlying facilities last week but didn’t have enough beds for 39 of those patients, said Keith Starke, Mercy’s senior vice president and chief clinical officer.
“What happens to those patients when they can’t be transferred?” Starke asked. “As these numbers go up, our ability to accept transfers goes down. Because when we are full, we are full.”
Kansas City area health leaders released their own statement on Friday, urging local officials to enforce mask requirements, require bars and restaurants to close by 10 p.m. and limit all in-person gatherings. Six public health directors from the Kansas City region, including Johnson, Jackson, Platte and Clay counties, expressed alarm at the "rampant community spread" in the region and asked local governments to take action.
"We fully understand the impact that stay-at-home orders have on our local economy," the statement read. "However, COVID-19 transmission cannot continue to rage out of control in our community given the severe strain on our health and medical systems."
On Saturday, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) issued a statement, noting the stated “is now seeing 28,000 new cases per week, or an average of 4,000 new cases per day. Last week, the rate was 2,800 new cases per day—representing a significant increase.
“Like the rest of the United States, Missouri is experiencing an increase in new cases of COVID-19,” said Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS). “We believe we will be able to start vaccinating our healthcare workers and long-term care facility staff as early as next month, and thus help protect them as they take care of our most vulnerable citizens.
“In the meantime, you can help them, help yourself and help your loved ones by continuing to physically distance, wear masks, use hand sanitizer and avoid congregating indoors when possible, even during the holidays. We monitor hospitalizations and available ICU beds daily but are mindful that all of us need to do everything we can to decrease their utilization given what we are seeing nationally. One way all of us can do our part is to get a flu shot. If you have not already, please do so.”
DHSS has added to its website considerations for celebrating the holidays safely at health.mo.gov/holidays2020. Daily updates to COVID-19 cases across the state can be found online at https://showmestrong.mo.gov/data/public-health/.