Jefferson County Health Department Board of Trustees member Suzy Davis criticized the COVID-19 color warning system the agency uses an called for and end to coronavirus testing in the county.

Jefferson County Health Department Board of Trustees met today, and member Suzy Davis criticized the COVID-19 color warning system the agency uses an called for and end to coronavirus testing in the county .

The Jefferson County Health Department reported 550 new COVID-19 cases since its last report on Nov. 20, bringing the total number of cases in the county to 10,736 since the first ones were reported in March, according to the Health Department.

Of those cases, 178 were from Nov. 20, 158 were from Nov. 21 and 193 cases were from Sunday (Nov. 22), according to the Health Department.

For the past 24 days, the county has had at least 100 new cases a day, the Health Department reported.

Board meeting

The Health Department Board of Trustees held its monthly meeting today, and tempers flared several times during a discussion about COVID-19.

Health Department Director Kelley Vollmar presented data from the Missouri Hospital Association, which showed Jefferson County has a 31.2 COVID-19 test positivity rate and a 1.26 reproductive rate, which is the average number of people infected by a person who has the virus.

“Community transmission is enormous, and it is not getting better,” Vollmar said.

Vollmar also read a letter from a county resident who said she uses oxygen and has a compromised immune system. She said she cares for several grandchildren and worries about getting COVID-19 and not being able to care for them.

Board member Suzy Davis interrupted Vollmar as she tried to read the letter.

“Kelley you picked the worst email you could find to make emotions here,” Davis said.

Davis was given 10 minutes to present information related to the color system the Health Department uses to warn residents about the status of COVID-19 cases in the county.

She said she would like to see the county use the White House Pandemic Task Force warning system instead, arguing that the Health Department’s statistics are incorrect.

Vollmar had explained earlier in the meeting that the Health Department consults the White House color system, and that warning system can be found on the department’s website.

Davis also said she would like to see an end to PCR (polymerase chain reaction) COVID-19 testing in the county.

Vollmar said another community testing event will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Hillsboro Community Civic Club.

After Davis gave her presentation, the board voted 3-1 to keep the current color system, with Davis casting the only no vote. Board chairman Dennis Diehl and board members Tim Pigg and Amber Henry voted yes, and board member James Prater was absent from the meeting.

The Health Department scheduled a special meeting for 4 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 25) to discuss strategies to curb the virus. An agenda for the meeting will be made public before the meeting.

Longtime employee retires

Also during the meeting, Vollmar recognized Ginger Vance, who is retiring after working 26 years at the Health Department, most recently on a COVID-19 testing team.

Vance said she is retiring now because she is disappointed with board member behavior and the way trustees handled a proposed mask mandate in August.

“The decision (to issue a mask mandate) was overturned on a Friday (Aug. 28) after the decision was made on Thursday (Aug. 27),” she said. “I’m embarrassed to wear our logo.

“I am leaving here with sadness in my heart. After 26 years, I am walking away, but I don’t want to. I truly love it here.”

County COVID stats

Of the 10,736 COVID-19 cases in the county, 9,886 are lab confirmed and 850 are probable cases. A case is considered probable when a person has been exposed to a positive case and is exhibiting symptoms, the Health Department reported.

The county currently has 2,910 active cases, the Health Department reported.

In addition, the county has had 96 COVID-19-related deaths since the pandemic started.

As of midnight Sunday, 1,334 people were quarantined, which means they had a confirmed exposure to the virus and were in the process of completing a 14-day quarantine period.

A total of 7,706 people had been released from isolation since the start of the pandemic, according to the Health Department.

Of the county’s total coronavirus cases, 848 have been at long-term care facilities, which includes residents and staff members who live in Jefferson County.

Of the total COVID-19 deaths in the county, 55 have been from long-term care facilities.

The county has had at least 23 COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities, according to the Health Department.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) defines an outbreak as one or more residents testing positive for the virus or one or more staff members who have worked within a facility in the 14 days before testing positive.

Color status

The county remains at the red level on the Health Department’s COVID-19 warning system.

Red is the highest level on the four-color system and indicates widespread and uncontrolled transmission of the virus.

Several factors are evaluated when determining the color level, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and White House Pandemic Task Force guidelines. However, the main indicator is the seven-day rolling average. If the county has a rolling average of 25 or more cases per day per 100,000 residents, it is moved to the red level.

From the period from Nov. 8 to Nov. 14, the seven-day rolling average of cases in the county was 95.05 per day per 100,000 people in the county, which has a population of about 225,000.

That is the highest rolling average the county has seen since the first COVID-19 cases were reported in March, according to the Health Department.

Health Department officials stress the importance of taking steps to prevent the spread of the virus, including avoiding crowds, social distancing, wearing face masks in public, good hand washing and staying home if you are sick.

Officials say they are especially worried about the spread of the virus over the upcoming holiday season, when people tend to gather with family and friends. Those kinds of gatherings, the Health Department has warned, can lead to the spread of COVID-19, which is particularly dangerous for older people and those with pre-existing health conditions.

State, U.S. stats

Missouri has had 274,897 positive cases of the coronavirus and 3,561 deaths related to the disease, the DHSS reported today.

The CDC reported the U.S. has had 12,175,921 cases, and a total of 255,958 coronavirus-related deaths, as of today.

Anyone who shows coronavirus symptoms or who has questions should call the Missouri State Hotline at 877-435-8411 or the Mercy Clinical Support Line at 314-251-0500. For more information about COVID-19, visit jeffcohealth.org/coronavirus-covid19.

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