Local health departments work to educate public on COVID-19

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

SIKESTON — Local health department officials are working to educate the public about coronavirus so they’re prepared before, during and after cases are confirmed in the area.

“Communities really need to take this seriously, and we’re just waiting for our (first) case to happen – so we’re wanting to be as preventive as possible,” said Rachelle Johnson, administrator of the Mississippi County Department.

Johnson said she thinks there’s room for communities to improve their social distancing skills.

Barry Cook, administrator of the Scott County Health Department, agreed.

“Just because you’re off of work and not working doesn’t mean you need to be out and about,” he said.

On Saturday Gov. Mike Parson announced in accordance with the guidelines from the President and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, that effective at 12:01 a.m. Monday, every person in the State of Missouri shall avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people. This means any planned or spontaneous event or convening that would bring together more than 10 people in a single space at the same time, according to the order.

This includes businesses, private clubs, churches and funeral homes, Cook said.

“We actually went around physically and talked to business owners,” Cook said.

Residents should also avoid eating or drinking at restaurants, bars or food courts, but the use of drive-thru, pickup or delivery options is allowed.

Employees with the local health departments delivered information about the order to local business owners over the weekend.

“We are pushing the information out into the community – no gatherings of more than 10 – so we are going around and working with restaurants and businesses and get that information out there,” Johnson said on Monday. “We’re here to help educate the public. We had already been working with restaurants. Some were still choosing to do the dining services and practicing social distancing.”

The responses in New Madrid County, so far, have been good, according to Jayne Dees, administrator of the New Madrid County Health Department.

“My staff and I were on the phone Saturday with our employers not only in New Madrid but Portageville, Gideon, Risco and Matthews,” Dees said. “We’ve had no trouble, and we’ve been very fortunate.”

Per the governor’s order, Missourians can still visit grocery stores, gas stations, parks and banks, as long as they continue to take precautions to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, including maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between all individuals that are not family members.

The health departments are still open for business, but all administrators recommended calling the centers before arriving for services.

“We don’t want anyone to think they can’t come here for WIC services and family planning,” Johnson said. “Call our facility first and we will screen them over over the phone.”

She said employees have been calling WIC participants and presenting their benefits either curbside or mailing.

COVID-19 testing is not conducted at the health departments, Johnson said.

“We also want to encourage the high-risk group — those who are 65 and older, who have chronic conditions and pregnant women — to wait on that service if it’s not a necessity. We don’t want them to be exposed if don’t have to be,” Johnson said.”

The Charleston R-1 School District has been awesome, Johnson said, noting the school officials donated their supply of disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizers so the health department can help the public.

“We have COVID-19 tool kits, which include information about the virus, travel-size hand sanitizer, travel-size tissues and a thermometer, and we hand those out to those when they come into our office,” Johnson added.

On Monday, the New Madrid County Health Department began taking the temperature of all of its employees and anyone entering the building,

“We decided to lock our front doors and placed a sign outside that asks them to call our number – and we will screen you and let you in,” Dees said.

She said the staff is discussing working alternate shifts in the coming weeks to keep the groups smaller.

Scott County Health Department also altered its routine.

“We are still providing various services; we’ve just altered the way we we are doing them,” Cook said of Scott County. “We’re doing a lot of business by phone and mail, especially with WIC, and we’re limiting access inside our facility.”

For offices and workplaces that remain open, individuals shall practice good hygiene and, where feasible, work from home in order to achieve optimum isolation from COVID-19.The statewide social distancing order remains in effect until 12:01 a.m. April 6, unless extended by further order of the Director of the Department of Health and Senior Services.

In the meantime, Johnson encouraged others to check on their neighbors via phone calls or texts.

“Call them and see if they need help – and make sure everyone is OK,” she said.

If COVID-19 cases are confirmed in the area, residents need to continue practicing social distancing, practice good handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, remember personal hygiene, Johnson said.

“Our main thing is to educate the community and tell them: this is how you can prevent the virus and all the CDC information,” Johnson said. “If you have questions, call and we will do our best to answer them.”

Mississippi County Health Department: (573) 683-2191

New Madrid County Health Department: (573) 748-5541

Scott County Health Department: (573) 471-4044

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: