With the number of both total cases and active cases continuing to increase significantly, the Pettis County Health Center wants to remind the community that the Face Covering Rule remains in effect for the county.

There has been no ruling from the court to rescind the rule and as of this morning, there has been no date set for any trial or hearing seeking such a ruling. The Health Center is working with our attorney and complying with all proper requests for information.

There have been no cases presented to the Prosecuting Attorney for consideration for any type of criminal or financial enforcement. When following up on complaints from the community regarding businesses where employees are not wearing a face covering, the staff of the Pettis County Health Center has provided educational materials, explained the importance of face coverings in slowing the spread of the virus and offered masks for those business who cannot afford to provide masks for customers that do not have a face covering.

The pandemic is taking a tremendous toll on our community. Although the sales tax revenue as a measure of economic activity has remained steady or increased above projections, that is not reflecting the situation for all businesses. The intent of the face covering rule was never to discourage business, but rather to provide opportunities for community members to move about in the county in a safer manner. We receive regular reports that people are fearful of leaving their homes because they do not feel safe going to places where people are not wearing face coverings. Employers are dealing with issues related to having enough workers available for production due to the combination of employees being out of work due to illness and isolation or being quarantined due to close contact with a positive case.

Beyond the economic toll, there is a cost in human lives and suffering. To date over 1700 Pettis County residents have been infected and 26 have died. When the staff of the Health Center contact individuals who test positive, more and more are reporting symptoms and for some, the symptoms are lasting longer than the 10 days of isolation. The hospital is reporting record numbers of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 while coping with staff shortages due to isolation or quarantine. The average cost of a hospital stay for person with COVID-19 is $10,411 and the length of stay is 5 days. Costs have reached as high as $130,000. Reports on Facebook are changing from complaints that the virus is not real to pleas for prayers for seriously ill family members.

We are all tired of wearing face coverings, but right now, face coverings and other protective measures such as remaining 6 feet apart, cleaning frequently touched surfaces, avoiding crowds, frequent hand washing and staying home if you are ill is all we have as a community and country to slow the spread of the virus.
The cost of the lawsuit is also taking an economic toll on the taxpayers of Pettis County. In order to defend the actions of the Board of Trustees to follow the guidance of federal experts and the science that wearing a face covering slows the spread of the virus, the Health Center has had to expend thousands of dollars in legal fees and those fees will continue until the case is resolved. There are many other activities that these funds could better be used for. The health of the community remains paramount in all actions taken by the Board of Trustees and Health Center staff. Personal responsibility was not working for our county as the average daily number of cases reported increased from 0.2 in March when there were limits on gatherings and people were eager to follow the guidance to 9.84 in July following the removal of all restrictions on the size of gatherings on June 16 to 21.63 in October as a significant proportion of our community has relaxed their compliance with safety guidelines.

The Face Covering Rule was implemented to serve as a reminder and encourage participation in a life saving activity to protect those in the community. At this time, there is no reliable way to determine who will become seriously ill and who will not. There are indicators of risk, but no assurance. Our community has been spared so far the death of a younger person related to the virus, but that is of little comfort to those who have lost spouses, parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers and friends. There is no comfort for families who cannot see family members in long term care because there continue to be high numbers of cases in the community. Wearing a face covering is not a sign of living in fear – rather an indication that the wearer values human life and wants to protect everyone they meet.

Randy Kirby