Grundy County Commission to consider mask order after meeting with numerous health professionals

Face Mask photo from Unsplash

Representatives from Wright Memorial Hospital, the Grundy County Health Department, and Grundy County Ambulance discussed a possible mask order with the Grundy County Commission the morning of December 8th.

Wright Memorial Chief Nursing Officer Catherine Hamilton said she does not think communities understand the stresses on hospital staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. She explained there are not enough beds or nursing staff, and other Saint Luke’s Health System hospitals are not required to take patients from Wright Memorial or save beds for them. The hospital in Trenton is part of the health system.

Hamilton said the nursing staff is “fighting a war,” and the staff is out of resources. Emergency staffing guidelines have been put into place, which she explained means if nurses are called in and do not show up, they can be fired. Access has been limited to the hospital, and patients have gotten COVID-19 from visitors.  Hamilton knows not everyone would wear a mask, even if there was an order in place, however, she believes an order would lessen the burden on the hospital.

Doctor Jennifer Bowe with the Wright Memorial Physicians Group said there has been a question as to whether there are enough beds for patients with other health problems. She has seen a lot of posts about individuals not being sick and not needing to wear masks, but she noted some people are asymptomatic and can spread the virus two days before having symptoms. Bowe believes masks help, and she reported studies have shown they do.

Grundy County Health Department Administrator Elizabeth Gibson said the hospital came to the health department regarding a mask order, and the health department has the authority to issue orders. The health department board voted to allow her to put orders into place. She is unsure what enforcement would look like if a mask order went into effect. She said if one was implemented, it could have a time limit, like 60 days.

Gibson talked about orders, advisories, and resolutions in other Missouri counties and said it is unknown how many more COVID-19 cases there would be in some communities if there were no mandates there.

First District Commissioner Don Sager said the county commission is an extension of state government. He said he called at the state level for more information, and the only person in Grundy County who can call for a mask order is Gibson. She is also the only person who could stop order, and the health department’s board’s vote would not matter. Gibson could not exceed state-level guidelines.  Sager commented that he supports wearing a mask and social distancing.

County Clerk Betty Spickard mentioned the Livingston County mask order is not enforced because there is no actual law in place. She also said she was told by a doctor not to wear a mask.

Ambulance Director Steve Tracy said he does not understand why individuals do not want to wear masks. He reported ambulance personnel has helped residents who are not wearing masks and are asymptomatic, and then test positive when they get to the hospital. He noted Grundy County was one of the last counties in the area with a confirmed COVID-19 case, and now it has one of the highest case counts in the area.

The health department reported 714 total cases as of Saturday. Gibson noted that includes confirmed and probable cases. Active cases fluctuate but are around 100. Probable cases include antigen test positives. The state does not include antigen test results in its reports.

Bowe noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say someone has three months of immunity after he or she has had COVID-19. Hamilton added that the hospital is seeing patients get reinfected. Gibson said individuals are not usually infectious after they have had the virus for 10 days, but they may still test positive.

Presiding Commissioner Phillip Ray said the commission would consider the matter further.