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Health center: Virus mostly confined to prisons
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Health center: Virus mostly confined to prisons

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Health center: Virus mostly confined to prisons

The current spike in COVID-19 cases in St. Francois County isn’t a sign of widespread community transmission, according to Health Center Director Amber Elliott.

Of the 95 active cases, 90 of them are associated with the two Department of Corrections outbreaks.

“That's not to say that we won't see (widespread community transmission), but the outbreaks in DOC are isolated events right now anyway,” Elliot said. “And then, hopefully, it stays that way. But certainly, because you do have employees that are coming in out of facility, there are some risks there.”

Most of the cases associated with the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center (ERDCC) in Bonne Terre and The Farmington Correctional Center (FCC) are inmates. There are eight staff cases at ERDCC and four at FCC.

Data can be found at: https://doc.mo.gov/media-center/newsroom/covid-19/data.

Congregate facilities are at high risk for virus transmission, Elliott said, so it’s not completely unexpected to see the outbreaks.

According to the health center, FCC is set to begin facility-wide testing next week. A total of 51 cases have been connected to the FCC outbreak; some of which have shown symptoms of the illness. A total of 50 cases have been connected to the ERDCC outbreak; all are currently asymptomatic.

Elliott did emphasize that not all of those cases are counted as St. Francois County statistics because some of the employees must reside in another county. But most of those are counted for St. Francois County.

The staff members that have tested positive have been isolated and their contacts have been quarantined, Elliott said.

Since March 22, there have been a total of 144 confirmed cases of the virus in St. Francois County.

The healthcare capacity is good right now with only nine cases out of the total 144 needing hospitalization, according to Elliott.

While the healthcare capacity and the lack of widespread community spread are encouraging signs, Elliott said, the virus isn’t going away.

“I think a lot of people are experiencing caution fatigue, which is basically, ‘we've heard all of these things that we need to do to prevent this disease,’” Elliott added. “But we've had to do it for so long. And it's in the media everywhere and every health department is talking about it and every medical association is talking about it. And so we've heard it, but we really have to keep on doing these things. Because we don't have a viable treatment. We don't have a vaccine. And so we're going to continue to see cases of this virus, and we want to minimize that as much as possible.”

There are no mandates right now, Elliott said, but it is up to each individual to take responsibility for maintaining social distancing, wearing masks in public when physical distancing isn’t possible, and monitoring for symptoms of the virus.

“There are guidance and guidelines that people need to follow, or what we're asking people to please follow, to prevent other people from getting sick or preventing yourself from getting sick,” Elliott said. “But right now, there is not widespread community transmission, but certainly if there was, we may need to make other decisions in collaboration with county commission.”

The health center is hoping to roll out a new community status indicator around mid-July to help residents better understand the statistics.

“We are working on an indicator system … similar to Jefferson County, which is a red yellow green system, to be able to give guidance as to where we're at community status wise in a simplistic way, because the numbers are cumbersome for folks who aren't living in the epidemiology world to understand exactly where we're at,” Elliott said.

As far as a vaccine, Elliott has heard from the state that, at the earliest, high-risk individuals and healthcare workers might be able to get the vaccine in fall 2020. This would mean early 2021 for the general population.

“Again, that's if everything goes right,” Elliott added. “This is the fastest they've ever made a vaccine. So everything has to go right for that to happen. But it's something that we're planning. We work on mass vaccination planning regularly anyway. But that that's the potential timeline of a vaccine at this point.”

Nikki Overfelt is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at noverfelt@dailyjournalonline.com.

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