Counties make emergency declarations
Health Department emphasizes social distancing, limiting groups of more than 10
The Barry County Commission, Lawrence County Commission and the Barry County Health Department have each made an emergency declaration, aiming to slow the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) with multiple cases in adjacent counties, as well as prepare for the need for any state or federal assistance.
The declarations activated the Emergency Operations Plan and established necessary emergency measures. Those measures include; prohibiting gatherings of greater than 10 people, social distancing of a minimum of 6 feet between unrelated people, and restriction to curbside or drive-thru restaurant service.
Roger Brock, administrator of the Barry County Health Department said that there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Barry County.
“Social distancing is the best way to limit the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “We understand these measures may be inconvenient, but they are the best way we have to protect our citizens.”
David Compton, Barry County Emergency Management director, said the order is not a stay at home order like what has been issued in Greene County.
“Ours limits restaurants and bars to carry-out service and, per the Governor’s order, allows them to sell uncooked food like grocery stores,” Compton said. “But, they still may have no more than 10 people in the building, and those people should keep a distance of 6 feet apart. This also extends to public gatherings. We know people work, play and pray together, but to defeat this virus, the most basic way is social distancing. This does not stop travel-related illness.
“In order to avoid an outbreak in the community, we use social distancing because the virus is spread person to person — it is not airborne or foodborne. Just staying inside doesn’t necessarily protect you, but staying away from other people will protect you.
Cases and testing
As of Wednesday morning, there were 255 cases of coronavirus statewide, and eight people died from the virus, including three in Greene County. In Barry County, also as of Wednesday morning, five people have tested negative, and two tests are awaiting results.
Compton said Gov. Mike Parson has now required all laboratories, public and private, to report positive and negative results. In the past, private labs may not have reported negative results. Compton said all Barry County’s tests have been in public labs.
“The bottom line is, if a doctor thinks you need at test, a test will be ordered,” Compton said. “And, no matter where the test is done, the labs report to the county of residency. The turnaround is also pretty good. We usually get tests back in 2-3 days.”
Compton more people are likely to be tested in the future, as well.
“Originally, there had to be likelihood of an exposure to get a test,” he said. “Now, that is shifting, and we are looking more at symptoms, like a fever of 100+, difficulty breathing and dry cough. Tests are done by doctors’ orders, but doctors now have greater discretion to make requests. If you have signs and symptoms and a doctor says you need to be tested, you will be tested.”
Compton said officials are also working toward the ability to test more people.
“What we’d like to do is surveillance testing to better track the virus,” he said. “Eventually, we want to capture the number of people carrying the virus but not showing symptoms.
“It would not surprise me if we have cases in Barry County because 80 percent of people who have it do not show symptoms. We may never know if those people have it, but they can still infect others, and that’s why we have the social distancing order.”
Benefit of declarations
There are multiple reasons for the county and health department to submit the emergency declarations despite having zero cases in the county.
“By declaring a state of emergency in Barry County, we are acknowledging we likely have cases, and our future response to that may exceed our ability to pay for it,” Compton said. “The public health declaration acknowledges there are likely cases that exist that we do not know about, so we need to use social distancing as a preventative measure.
“We held off our declaration for a couple weeks because we wanted to make sure we clearly saw a threat. And, with confirmed cases in so many counties next to us, it is likely cases also exist in our community.”
Declaring a state of emergency will also open up the county to state or federal assistance and resources, should it be needed.
An example of that would be help paying for biohazard waste, which can be costly.
“If any of the personal protection equipment used by medical personnel is contaminated, it has to be disposed of as biological waste, and you have to pay by the pound to do that,” Compton said.
Gov. Parson has also made a disaster declaration to FEMA and President Donald Trump.
In the request filed Tuesday, Parson said the pandemic is of such severity and magnitude that an effective response is beyond the state and local governments.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has already had a devastating effect on the state of Missouri, straining hospitals, healthcare facilities and nursing homes, businesses large and small, schools, and tens of thousands of Missourians who have been forced out of their jobs,” Parson said. “Although it is continuing to develop, it’s already clear the COVID-19 pandemic will have a more sweeping impact on the entire state of Missouri than any other previous disaster that has affected our citizens. There is an urgent need for federal assistance to help Missouri families meet today’s challenges and the many more that we will face.”
Parson requested two programs statewide, disaster unemployment assistance and crisis counseling, under FEMA’s Individual Assistance Program, which provides assistance to individuals and families. The Governor said the closure of multiple employment sectors will greatly impact all Missourians and that the state and local capabilities to provide mental health services will also require federal assistance.
Governor Parson also requested FEMA's Public Assistance Program to assist local governments and qualifying nonprofit agencies with emergency response expenses, including those of first responders, in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also requested that FEMA assist with debris removal expenses if needed for the removal and disposal of biohazard and other contaminated materials as a result of the pandemic response.
Letters of essential service
Since the issuance of the stay at home order in Greene County, many in the community have received letters ofd essential service from their employers. Compton said at this juncture, it may not hurt to carry the letters at this time, but it is not necessary, and the likelihood of any fines or enforcement is low.
“Could someone receive a fine, yes, but that’s very unlikely,” Compton said. “In Barry County, we do not have a stay at home order. If events are held with more than 10 people, that would be a misdemeanor, but enforcement is not the goal. The goal is just to educate people. As long as people aren’t blatantly endangering the health of the public, it would not be an issue.”
Compton said at the end of the day, law enforcement would know what essential services are, and letters handed out by employers would not carry any legal weight, as a business owner proclaiming a business is essential does not inherently make it so.
“Government agencies determine what essential services are,” Compton said. “Like in Greene County, when they wrote their stay at home order, they picked what services are essential. A lot of these letters are coming form associations and private businesses. The Department of Agriculture is the only government entity I have seen that has sent something to people transporting food and goods, and that was based on what the federal government calls essential services. Greene County’s order allowed for more than that.”
County Commission’s action
The Barry County Historic Courthouse has restricted access to the West Handicap entrance. Those with business in the courthouse should read the posted advisories before entering. Instructions posted at the entrance of each office will have directions for access. People are encouraged to contact courthouse offices directly with questions.
“The County Commission is dedicated to maintaining important county services, but it is imperative to the safety of citizens and county employees that we enact these precautions,” said Gary Youngblood, presiding commissioner.
COVID-19 Symptoms — cough, fever, difficulty breathing — may occur two days to two weeks after exposure. Although most of the cases have been mild, the disease is especially dangerous for the elderly and others with weaker immune systems. Those most at risk should avoid unnecessary travel and contact with non-family members.
To be evaluated for symptoms of COVID-19, or if symptoms worsen, county officials ask individuals to call their local medical provider or hospital before seeking treatment. People who feel they might have the virus need to give health care providers a warning so safety precautions can be taken before their arrival to help prevent the infection of health care workers and others at the facility.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is operating a hotline for residents and health care providers to call for information and guidance about COVID-19.The statewide hotline number is 877-435-8411. The hotline is being operated by medical professionals and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.