County officials are urging Franklin County residents to help limit the spread of COVID-19, after the county has continued to see a surge in cases over the last several weeks.
In a Tuesday email, Presiding Franklin County Commissioner Tim Brinker — who serves as the public information officer for the Franklin County Health Department regarding the COVID-19 pandemic — described the virus as an “enemy” and the months long battle residents have faced with it as “a war.”
“Having just finished conversations with our St. Louis regional health leaders and political leaders, it is absolutely hypercritical that all Missourians adhere to the recommendations regarding all aspects of mitigating the virus,” Brinker wrote.
Since Monday, Nov. 9, the Franklin County Health Department has reported 396 new cases of COVID-19. The health department is no longer releasing data for recovered cases of COVID-19.
Of those new cases reported this week, 16 are children 10 and younger.
Friday, the health department reported 96 new cases, which included a 4-year-old girl from Pacific, a 10-year-old girl from St. Clair and a 7-year-old boy from Union.
There have been 3,806 cases of COVID-19 reported in the county since March, and 229,371 cases statewide.
In an email Friday, Brinker told The Missourian, “the Franklin County Health Department and the county commission continues to urgently request that everyone wear masks in public, keep your distance from others, clean hands and frequently touched surfaces, and do only what is absolutely necessary at this time for you and your family.”
He added the health department has adopted the revised guidelines put forth by Gov. Mike Parson Thursday, Nov. 12.
“Please note that currently this is only applicable to schools and not businesses,” Brinker said. “The Franklin County Health Department and the three-member county commission will continue to evaluate this change and make changes if needed, as deemed necessary for the health of our great county.”
Under the updated guidance, proper mask wearing may now prevent individuals from being identified as close contacts in K-12 schools that have implemented a mask mandate.
“This means that if both individuals at school — the person diagnosed with COVID-19 and the person exposed to the positive case — have masks on and are wearing them correctly, the individual exposed does not need to quarantine,” Brinker said.
He added exposed individuals should self-monitor for symptoms and stay home at the first sign of illness. They should also continue to wear a mask at all times to further reduce the likelihood of transmitting the virus. The person who tests positive for COVID-19 is still required to isolate at home.
“Close contacts in K-12 schools should continue to quarantine at home for 14 days if their school does not require students and staff to wear masks, or the mask was not being worn appropriately by either the person diagnosed with COVID-19 or the person who was exposed,” Brinker said.
The surge in Franklin County follows trends seen in the greater St. Louis metro area, as cases continue to rise in St. Louis city and in St. Louis, Jefferson and St. Charles counties.
St. Louis city officials announced additional COVID-19 restrictions will take effect Saturday. The restrictions include limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer, keeping business capacity below 25 percent and banning indoor public dining.
Brinker told The Missourian Friday, there are no official plans yet to implement a similar mandate in Franklin County.
Brinker said he and his fellow county commissioners, First District Commissioner Todd Boland and Second District Commissioner Dave Hinson, are being “watchful and vigilant” regarding the surge in cases.
“If action is deemed necessary we would not hesitate to take action,” Brinker said. “Right now we trust the public and citizenry to start doing what they need to do, and that’s where it stands.”
Brinker said he hopes the residents of Franklin County continue to take precautions to help decrease the number of cases.
“I’ve seen it happen before, people can be responsible and can practice personal responsibility,” Brinker said. “We are just beseeching those to take that responsibility once again ... the sooner we get adherence to the mitigation recommendations the sooner we can get back to enjoying everyone’s close company.”
Eric Eoloff, president of Mercy Hospital Washington, said efforts to encourage county residents to wear face coverings and stay socially distant “are not resulting in the widespread compliance we need to lower the spread of COVID-19.
“The data are very clear on that,” Eoloff said. “Some legislative body is going to have to find the courage to step up and mandate stay-at-home orders or face coverings. Short of that, we can expect more hospitalizations and more deaths due to COVID-19 until our community is eventually vaccinated against the virus.”
As of Friday, there are 22 Franklin County residents hospitalized due to COVID-19, according to the health department, and 88 active long-term care cases in the county.
Eoloff said the hospital currently has 29 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, and 26 of those account for Franklin County residents, which contradicts the information from the health department.
Mercy Hospital Washington’s numbers were the most recent as of press time Friday.
Those hospitalized for the virus range in age from 59 years of age to 94, Eoloff said, adding the hospital has implemented its overflow status procedures for critical care patients.
Fifty-seven Franklin County residents have died of COVID-19 since March.
The most recent death was reported Friday, Nov. 6. The Oct. 31 death of 13-year-old Peyton Baumgarth, a Washington Middle School eighth-grader, has not yet been reported by the county health department.
The 10-day rolling total of new COVID-19 cases is 732, with the 14-day new case average at 61.14.
The health department’s report said the testing positivity rate over the last 14 days is 28.1 percent, noting the information came from the “Missouri website.”
The report also did not include the total number of negative tests. Brinker said the reason for this was the health department has not received the information from the state.
Contact tracing company MAXIMUS Federal Services Inc. began work in the county this week. The company will provide additional contact tracing and case management for the health department.
“The contract will provide much-needed relief to our already stressed health department,” Brinker said. “Included will be 10 contact tracers, supervisory and operations personnel, data entry and five case managers. Contract cost is $363,993.”
Even with the additional help, the health department will still not report on the number of recoveries for COVID-19.
“It’s really cumbersome to report the inevitable, comparative to what the resources need to be focused on, which is the prevention of spread,” Brinker said.