HERMANN — After an absence that prompted concern among county residents, updates of coronavirus cases have returned to the Gasconade County Health Department’s website. But rather than …
HERMANN — After an absence that prompted concern among county residents, updates of coronavirus cases have returned to the Gasconade County Health Department’s website. But rather than giving daily updates of case numbers, the agency is providing weekly reports because of limited staff time available to produce the reports.
“We started putting it up today,” said Health Department Administrator Greg Lara Friday afternoon in an interview with the Gasconade County Republican. As COVID-19 cases took a sharp rise in recent weeks in the county, the agency’s staff became further pressed to conduct investigations and contact tracing. Lara said he decided the time being spent on compiling reports for the website was needed for the contact tracing effort.
“That takes a lot of time out of somebody’s day,” Lara said of the work needed to produce the updates. “It would take several hours of people going through all the documents” used to update the numbers, he said. “I decided to stop doing it for now.”
But, Lara said, he recognized that the public wanted the information. “We know people watch that like a hawk,” the administrator said, in explaining that it was decided to bring back the updates on a weekly basis.
Indeed, the absence of the COVID updates was noted during Thursday morning’s session of the County Commission. Presiding Commissioner Larry Miskel, R-Hermann, said he understood why the reports were dropped from the health agency's website. “It’s a 7-day operation,” he said of the health department’s efforts to keep up with the increase in coronavirus cases. “They’re getting burned out; they’re overwhelmed,” he said.
However, he acknowledged the public’s interest in seeing the latest case figures, noting that Gasconade County residents received less-comprehensive information than residents of other counties, such as Franklin County. Franklin County health officials listed case locations by city and deaths by age, gender and location only. Gasconade County health officials opted to provide only raw numbers, giving no breakdown of where the cases were located. That remains the case with the resumed weekly updates.
The Health Department’s Hermann office has, for the most part, been shuttered to the more-routine public health agency tasks while the staff deals with contact tracing and investigation. “We’re busy, sometimes frustrated,” Lara said. “We just hope it will end.”
He said plans call for a resumption of the regular work in the coming days, if the coronavirus spread eases. “If we have staff available, we’ll give out flu shots if they make appointments,” he said.
Other public health services have been forced to the sidelines while staff deals with the virus. “We canceled our WIC (Womens, Infants and Children) clinic this past week,” Lara noted. “We’re trying to do a minimal amount of stuff” while attention is focused on contact tracing.
The work of the county health agency is being supported by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Lara said. “The state has given us some help in investigating and contact tracing. That’s a big help,” he said.
Also, Lara has secured CARES Act money to purchase laptop computers to allow staffers to work from home while conducting contact tracing.