A 12-year-old girl from Robertsville, a 13-year-old girl from Washington and a 92-year-old woman from St. Clair are among the Franklin County residents who tested positive for COVID-19, according to Tuesday’s report from the county health department. 

Since March, 4,650 people in Franklin County have tested positive for the virus. That number was 2,500 one month ago — on Oct. 21. 

Since Nov. 1, 1,678 Franklin County residents have tested positive, including 925 women and 752 men (in one case, the sex was not reported). Children aged 12 and under account for just under 100 of the new cases, while adults aged 65 and older make up 345. 

The number of people who have died in the county due to COVID-19 remains at 75. 

There were 79 active long-term care cases on Tuesday, which includes both residents and staff.

ICUs at or Near Capacity

According to Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker, the ICU capacity at Mercy Hospital Washington played a huge factor in the county’s decision to implement a mask mandate, far more than the rising case count. 

“It’s the loss of life and hospitalizations that are the key to a decision like this,” he said. 

Tuesday’s report said 24 county residents were receiving treatment at area hospitals. 

Mercy Hospital Washington President Eric Eoloff wrote in an email that his staff has implemented overflow status twice in the past two weeks, which means they’ve needed to place intensive care patients in the ambulatory surgery center for several days.

Tuesday morning, Mercy was caring for 26 COVID-19 patients, 15 of whom were in the ICU or the step-down unit. Eoloff said those patients are very sick. The hospital currently has one bed open in its ICU, which the staff tries to keep open for “emergency situations involving traumas, heart attacks or strokes.”

The majority of COVID-19 patients over the past few months have been from Franklin County, Eoloff wrote. Tuesday there were 21 people from Franklin County hospitalized with COVID-19 at Mercy, two from Crawford County, and one each from Gasconade, Warren and St. Charles counties. 

Statewide, Missouri broke its record for the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients with 2,805 people hospitalized Monday. Six weeks ago, the number was half that. Nearly four-fifths of the state’s hospital beds are occupied, and of those hospitalized currently, 647 are in the ICU. 

Those patients are among the 274,897 Missourians who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. As of Monday, 3,561 people had died from the virus in the state.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services also announced Monday that it processed 161 additional COVID-19 deaths that had not been reported to the state by a different entity, such as a county health department. Communications Director Lisa Cox said certifying a death as a COVID-19 death can take two to four weeks, possibly longer. 

At press time, it was not known whether these new deaths included Peyton Baumgarth, the Washington Middle School student who died of the virus on Halloween. His death has not yet been reported by the Franklin County Health Department.

City and County

Mandate Masks

The surge in cases not only in Franklin County but also across the U.S. is part of what prompted Brinker and the Washington City Council to pass mask mandates.

The countywide mandate went into effect Nov. 20, and is set to expire Dec. 20. It requires anyone aged 10 and older to wear a mask in public when they cannot maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from others.

Brinker, who is acting as the public information officer for the county health department regarding COVID-19, said the response to the county’s mandate has been positive for the most part.

“People are really starting to understand, with the case count being so high and the messaging from all our hospital families,” Brinker said.

The mandate passed by the Washington City Council Monday night will expire not on a specific date, but when the city achieves certain health metrics set forth by Harvard Global Health Institute.

Eoloff said the two mandates are a step in the right direction and the hospital staff is grateful for the county and city leaders who stepped up. 

“Although not perfect, the mask mandates are a strong signal to the community that we’re in a very serious situation,” Eoloff wrote. “But the mandates won’t work if residents choose not to obey them and fail to recognize the seriousness of the situation we are in. We needed a stronger mitigation strategy to slow the spread of the virus, to keep our hospitals from reaching this breaking point.

“While we understand the concern about personal liberties being taken away, data from across the country demonstrate that the reproductive rate of the virus is lower in counties and cities that have implemented mitigation strategies like mask mandates than in counties and cities that have tried only educating the public,” he wrote. 

‘Battle Through This’

With the holidays approaching, Brinker encouraged residents to be as cautious as they were at the beginning of the pandemic, when case counts were a fraction of what they are now.

“If we can all just get back to that March, April routine of really paying attention and doing what we need to do, I think we’re going to battle through this,” he said. “I was told the other day that for every 80 cases you prevent, that’s a death you prevent. That’s important to keep in mind.”