The Jefferson County Health Department Board of Trustees voted 3-2 today (Sept, 24) to hold a special board meeting to discuss COVID-19 prevention measures, which could include limiting the size of groups that can gather and issuing a face mask mandate.
However, the board did not set a date, time or location for the special meeting.
The board did decide, though, to make changes to the next meeting, whenever it might be held, including holding it in a larger space so members of the public may attend.
Typically the board holds the meeting in a conference room at the Health Department’s Hillsboro Office, which allows virtually no room for anyone other than the trustees and a few staff members to attend.
At today’s meeting, which was held at the Hillsboro office, board member Tim Pigg not only suggested the special meeting be held at a larger public venue, but also he recommended the public be given one week’s notice before the meeting. In addition, Pigg suggested a time limit be set for the overall meeting and a time limit be set for public comments.
Board member Amber Henry made a motion to hold a special meeting with the changes Pigg recommended.
Board members Suzy Davis and James Prater both voted against the motion, while Henry, Pigg and board chairman Dennis Diehl voted yes.
Before the vote, Health Department Director Kelley Vollmar urged the board to hold a special meeting and “get in front of this pandemic.”
“I think it is important the public understands our agency is doing everything within the four walls of this office to be able to help the people in this community,” she said. “They (Health Department staff members) are getting screamed at, berated on a daily basis to the point where it is reprehensible. I am ashamed of some of the people in my community for the way they're treating people who are, honest to God, trying to help them. I think regardless this board should take a stance one way or another. It doesn’t matter what direction you go; just make a stance.”
Also before the vote to hold the meeting, Davis made a motion to table the discussion about a special meeting, and Prater, seconded it, but the motion failed by the same 3-2 vote.
Davis also made a motion to delay discussing having a meeting for two weeks to have more time to track COVID-19 cases, but no one seconded it, so no vote was taken.
The number of new COVID-19 cases has been on the rise in the county lately, according to Health Department reports.
However, Davis questioned the accuracy of the number of reported cases, saying she believes positive cases include “duplicates.”
Vollmar said Health Department staffers look at every lab report to confirm a person is only counted once no matter how many times he or she is tested.
In addition, Vollmar said over the past 30 days, area hospitals have seen a 90 percent increase in Jefferson County COVID-19 patients.
She also said the board could consider hiring a company to help the Health Department with contact tracing – contacting people who may have been exposed to people who test positive for COVID-19.
At one point during the meeting Vollmar asked Davis to stop texting, and Pigg asked Vollmar not to reprimand board members.
Other board business
Also at the meeting, the board voted 5-0 to hire new legal counsel – Sandberg Phoenix, which has offices in Missouri and Illinois. The board's previous legal counsel was the Wegmann Law Firm in Hillsboro.
Before the regular meeting started, the board held the annual hearing needed to set this year’s tax rate. The rate remains the same as last year – 10.73 cents per $100 assessed valuation. The Health Department anticipated receiving $3,788,006 from the tax this year.
County COVID-19 stats
Prior to the board meeting, the Health Department reported 60 new COVID-19 cases, including 16 cases at long-term care facilities.
That brings the total number of cases in the county to 4,232 since the first ones were reported in March.
Those cases are through midnight Wednesday (Sept. 23).
Of the total cases in the county, 1,029 are active ones, which is the number of positive cases excluding COVID-19 deaths and patients who have been released from isolation.
The county has had a total of 60 COVID-19-related deaths in the county since the pandemic began, and 3,139 cases have been released from isolation, which means the patients recovered enough to be released from case management, the Health Department reported.
Another four cases are under investigation, according to the Health Department.
Of the 4,232 cases in the county, 3,917 are lab confirmed and 315 cases are probable. A case is considered probable when a person has been exposed to a positive case and is exhibiting symptoms, according to the Health Department.
The Health Department also reported today that it has monitored a total of 4,418 cases, and of those, 1,088 are still actively quarantined and another 3,330 have been released from quarantine.
Zwiener said a person who is being actively monitored has been in contact with a positive case, but is not showing symptoms.
She said people who are actively monitored are quarantined to their homes and must take their temperature twice a day for 14 days.
Long-term care facilities
Of the county’s total coronavirus cases, 572 have been at long-term care facilities, which includes residents and staff members who live inside Jefferson County.
Of the county’s 60 COVID-19-related deaths, 43 deaths have been in long-term care facilities, the Health Department reported today.
The county has had at least 19 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.
The Health Department also reported that of the total number of cases at long-term care facilities, 143 are active ones, and 385 have been released from isolation. One case is still under investigation.
Health Department officials decided Tuesday (Sept. 22) to move the county back to the red level on the agency’s four-color COVID-19 alert system, after the county spent the previous week at the orange level.
The red level is the highest level on the alert system and indicates widespread uncontrolled community transmission and calls for more mitigation efforts to control the spread of the virus.
The main indicator used to determine the color level is the seven-day rolling average of cases per day/per 100,000 residents, according to the Health Department.
The red level indicates the county, which has a population of about 225,000, is seeing 25 or more cases per 100,000 people per day.
When the county was moved into the red level again Tuesday, the rolling average was 31.94 per 100,000 people, Vollmar said.
The Health Department Board of Trustees passed a mandatory mask ordinance on August 28, but less than 24 hours later, before the order went into effect, the board revoked the ordinance at an emergency meeting after questions were raised about whether the board followed proper procedures.
While the Health Department board has not mandated any mitigation efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, Health Department officials urge residents to take preventive steps, including eliminating unnecessary travel, avoiding crowds, social distancing, wearing masks, frequently washing hands, and staying home if you are sick.
Brianne Zwiener, Health Department communications specialist, said the agency looks at the data everyday for trends, but the data is reviewed every Tuesday to see if the color level needs to be changed.
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.