County health agency expects prolonged response to pandemic virus

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 3/18/20

Health agency officials in Gasconade County say thus far the coronavirus outbreak has bypassed local residents, but its potential effect has prompted a spate of meetings to plan for what could be a …

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County health agency expects prolonged response to pandemic virus


Health agency officials in Gasconade County say thus far the coronavirus outbreak has bypassed local residents, but its potential effect has prompted a spate of meetings to plan for what could be a prolonged response.

As of Monday morning, no testing for the virus had been conducted on any Gasconade County resident, according to Carla Schutt, administrative assistant in the Gasconade County Health Department. However, in adjacent Franklin County, there have been about a half-dozen tests conducted. At this point, none has come back as being positive for the virus.

In the Gasconade County R-1 School District in Hermann, the Board of Directors Monday night agreed to join many other districts in the region and shutter the schoolhouse doors beginning today with the closing to continue at least through April 3.

The decision followed a day full of meetings to assess the situation as it might concern R-1 students and staff. Superintendent Scott Smith told the Gasconade County Republican Monday morning that Gov. Mike Parson and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) left any decisions regarding closing of schools to the local districts. Several states throughout the country have closed schools for an extended period.

Smith has been talking with various agencies in recent days about the situation and was continuing his efforts as this week began. “I’ll be in meetings all day…discussing where we are as a community and ourselves,” the district’s top administrator said. “We’re trying to determine what’s in our best interest” in terms of action affecting students and staff.

Smith sent parents a recorded telephone message about 8 o’clock Monday night alerting them to the decision made by the board in the special session.

Other area schools, including Gasconade County R-2 and Washington, decided to suspend classes for an extended period.

Smith told parents that while no instances of the coronavirus had been detected in Gasconade County, it was decided that suspending classes could figure into slowing the spread of the virus.

Well before the R-1 board convened, the danger posed by the virus was being felt by R-1 students. The annual fourth-grade field trip by R-1 students to the Missouri Capitol was canceled — a decision made by the state and not the local district officials.

Coronavirus concerns are having an effect on some aspects of local government. Gasconade County Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel, R-Hermann, on Thursday noted that the annual trip of Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) members to Washington, D.C., to lobby the region’s representatives had been scrapped.

Each year, MRPC officials such as Miskel make the trip to promote the region’s legislative package in meetings with members of the U.S. House and Senate. But concerns about avoiding crowded spaces — such as an airplane — means the lobbying likely will be done remotely rather than in person.

The business community in tourism-reliant Hermann is beginning to feel the initial effects of the virus concern, said Hermann Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melissa Lensing.

“We have had a few (bus tours) that canceled last week that were scheduled to come in the next couple months,” Lensing said. “In the short term, we’re seeing an effect,” she said.

However, Lensing noted that last weekend seemed to be a typical weekend for visitors. “Town was pretty busy,” she said, noting that Hermann Trolley — a popular barometer of tourism activity — reported steady customers.

“Our bachelorettes were in town; our birthday parties were held,” the Chamber official said.

One bar closed this past weekend, she said, but other drinking establishments and restaurants were operating as usual.

Lensing was hoping to learn more about helping local businesses weather the growing coronavirus concerns later Monday in a conference call between member chambers and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

She said she is remaining optimistic the situation doesn’t worsen in the area. “I’m hoping things level out, but there might be more to come,” she said.

Hermann Area District Hospital Administrator Dan McKinney told the Republican that a flurry of meetings have been held to craft a plan for the local medical facility to continue its work during the period of uncertainty regarding the virus. He said Monday that the plan should have been in place and announced to the public yesterday (Tuesday).

The administrator confirmed that no testing for the virus had been done in the county as of Monday — a good thing, he noted, because the hospital has been having difficulty obtaining the test kits needed to check for the coronavirus. So, McKinney said, hospital technicians are developing their own test.


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