Mayor Bill McMurray will extend the city’s social distancing rules until at least June 15, following an extension made by the governor.
At a Thursday meeting, St. Joseph City Council members were in favor of the extension proposed by McMurray, and the health department staff agreed.
“I think because we do have a lot of cases still in our community, it makes sense to continue the order as is,” St. Joseph Health Department Director Debra Bradley said. “While Mosaic is managing fine with the number of individuals in the hospital ... we also don’t want to get to a point where we’re overwhelming them.”
During Thursday’s work session, McMurray announced that Mosaic currently is treating 19 patients with COVID-19, six of whom are in the ICU. Two of the patients in the ICU are on ventilators.
The council still will allow softball and baseball practices starting June 1, as discussed in a previous meeting, and games could begin after June 15. Both practices and games will see distancing rules required.
Bradley told the council that local businesses are, for the most part, cooperating with distancing rules. She said her department investigates violations based on complaints made by the public and, so far, two places have been inspected.
She said a local bar was allegedly breaking the rules but was found to be in compliance when health department staff stopped at the business to check. Another business, this one described as a “service industry” was, in fact, in violation when inspectors investigated a complaint, but on a second check-in later, it was found to have solved the issues.
A second community testing event is being planned for sometime during the second week of June. The first event saw around 1,400 of 2,000 testing kits issued by the state used. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services allowed Mosaic to keep 100 tests and the rest were sent back.
Bradley said McMurray called Dr. Randall Williams, Director of Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services, and requested 400 tests in order to do another event.
“He asked for 400 test kits and Dr. Williams said ‘I’ll send them to you if you have a community event.’ So, that’s what we’ve been trying to do,” she said.
She said Northwest Health Services is interested in performing the tests, but a location and exact date have not yet been chosen.
To see the current social distancing rules and requirements, visit the city’s website at stjoemo.info.
Mosaic Life Care has seen hospitalizations rise to 20 COVID-19 patients at its facilities, with two to four of those on ventilators.
Dr. Edward Kammerer, chief quality officer at Mosaic, said the hospitalizations are the highest the hospital has seen so far, which he said is expected due to the peak of cases in the St. Joseph area around the beginning of May and symptoms usually being present around 11 days later. As of Thursday morning, 19 people were hospitalized in St. Joseph and one was at Mosaic’s Albany location.
“I would expect we’ll probably have one more week where we have a higher number towards 20 or so, and then I would anticipate that unless we have another spike in cases that we’ll start to see that number slowly progress towards 10 or so, or a more normal rate,” Kammerer said.
Mosaic’s fifth floor is a pandemic-dedicated space, and Kammerer said there are 100 beds that could become available if needed for pandemic rooms.
While the age of those testing positive for COVID-19 in Buchanan County is highest among the 30- to 39-year-old category, those who are hospitalized are usually older, Kammerer said.
“The number one demographic that’s being admitted to the hospital is the 60-year-olds who are still in a work environment, have difficulty with regards to social distancing and then also have multiple comorbidities,” Kammerer said.
Kammerer said the usual expectation for hospitalization time for pneumonia is around four to five days, but Mosaic officials are seeing longer stays with patients who are in the hospital for COVID-19.
“We have these folks that are really, really sick and require ventilators and will be in the hospital for longer periods of time, which is what inflates that number somewhat where when 20 in the hospital, some of those, several of those, are the same people we have had for the weeks before,” Kammerer said.
An extended St. Joseph School District campaign to fill two seats on the Board of Education has prompted the two women and four men among the contenders to invest more time, energy and resources than they could have ever anticipated beforehand, as the filing deadline happened before the pandemic arrived.
Lori Witham spoke in concert with her five competitors in acknowledging that the campaign has forced everyone involved to think out of the box. She advanced her view that this experience will be beneficial to whichever two candidates get onto the board, which likely will have to make several difficult decisions in the near future on short notice.
Public institutions across Missouri and the nation are confronting a tide of funding shortfalls, depressed tax revenues, physically and emotionally stressed faculty and staff and a slew of other obstacles in offering safe, equitable and effective education to students. In spite of all of these things, Witham said, she believes the district will come out stronger, citing her decades of experience in education. Witham praised the current administration leaders, particularly the efforts of assistant superintendent of business and operations Dr. Gabe Edgar, for their ability to meet the mission of the district while doing less with more.
“I think the whole COVID pandemic situation right now may end up being a blessing in disguise in that it will force us to maybe think outside of the box a little bit, to re-examine how we are doing things and what we can do to improve,” Witham said. “You know, change is sometimes unwanted and is forced upon us, but it is also a chance to look back and say, ‘What good came out of this?’ So, I am really hopeful we can use this as a springboard for innovation, for creative thinking.”
Michelle Traster, citing her experience in information technology and education at Missouri Western State University, said the innovation that has resulted from the impacts of the pandemic has been a great service to the community, but that there are challenges with equity and student health and safety that remain to be addressed.
“Building partnerships between the parents and the school, that’s going to be vital moving forward,” Traster said. “Because teaching doesn’t just start and stop at the school. We need to answer parents’ questions: How can I help my struggling reader? How can I help my struggling writer? What can we do at home? And building those relationships with the school is going to be really, really important. I think we’re in a position where we can ... start working on that.”
Brian Shewell, a native of Excelsior Springs, Missouri who moved to St. Joseph to attend Missouri Western in 2010, said it is vital for agencies like the St. Joseph School District to step up their efforts to recruit faculty and staff from the local community and from around the region.
“Recruiting and retaining amazing teachers is ... going to be a top priority for me, because now more than ever, we have to have the best of the best teaching our future,” he said. “We next need to focus on the four ways to guide our students out of high school: The workforce, college, the military and the trades. The workforce and the professional trades kind of go hand-in-hand, but there are still distinct choices in which we need to be guiding our students, the choices we prepare them all their lives to make.”
Kenneth Reeder affirmatively identifies as a would-be disruptive factor in what he considers to be the usual way of doing things on the board of education. However, he said that he believes the board will be will-served regardless of which two among the six candidates is victorious on Tuesday.
“I’m very kind of honored and proud to run with the group of people that we’ve been running with this time round,” he said. “Everybody’s very serious about it. It’s really nice to have this many candidates plugged in and knowledgeable and paying attention to it. They bring a lot to the table. So that’s very much appreciated that they’ve raised their hands. I think we have a broad spectrum of people and interest there. And that could represent us well, no matter how the election goes.”
Joshua Hall emphasized a message he has offered throughout the campaign, which is that the community and the school district are co-dependent, and that we must have a successful school district to have a thriving community. While he acknowledged that the pandemic likely will force the next board of education to make difficult decisions about how it invests limited resources, it is essential that education leaders are open to all ideas for the future. Especially as social distancing requirements are likely to stress the need for extra student capacities, Hall advocates for re-opening school facilities as much as possible.
“We find ourselves in a paradox where, well, we’ve got to reduce staff, but we need staff more than ever, because we can’t put 45 to 60 kids in one classroom,” he said. “We’ve got to get that down. Well, how do we address that and also shrink staffing? How do we keep the schools cleaner? Well, through the janitorial service. Through the food service. Which means we need more staff. In any business, drips fill buckets, paper cuts kill the beast. We have to look at places to cut the fat.”
Rick Gilmore cited his business acumen as a reason why the voters should trust in his leadership and his ability to lead an institution like the St. Joseph School District through challenging times.
“I was in the construction business for 50 years, and I had my own business for 33 years,” he said. “So I’ve got a lot of experience in looking at spreadsheets and forming budgets and cost cutting and staying within our means. And that’s what we’re going to have to do, you know, we just have to weigh everything against how it affects the students and the teachers.”
For more input from the candidates, the St. Joseph Chamber of Commerce has set up a public forum for 9 a.m. Friday. The forum will be available for viewing via www.facebook.com/saintjosephchamber.
Missouri recorded 12,663 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The number of cases is up by 171 from 12,492 on Wednesday, resulting in a 1.4% increase.
The number of deaths increased from 696 to 705.
Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins University, which also counts presumptive positive cases, is reporting 12,816 cases in Missouri and 696 deaths.
In Buchanan County, 667 people have tested positive for the virus as of Thursday, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Mosaic Life Care has issued 5,666 tests in its service area, with 299 returning a positive result, 5,171 a negative result and 196 still pending. Nineteen people are inpatients in St. Joseph and one person in as inpatient in Albany.
Kansas recorded 9,337 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, up from 9,218 on Monday. A total of 205 people have died. The Kansas Department of Health releases numbers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.