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Area officials give COVID-19 update

Government officials and community health experts addressed Cape Girardeau County’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) during a media conference on March 23, at the Cape Girardeau County Administrative Building. As of Monday, there have been no confirmed cases in the county of the virus.

SoutheastHEALTH President and CEO Kenneth Bateman said the Cape Girardeau hospital has performed 26 coronavirus test, but is still waiting on results of 14 of the 26.

“To my knowledge there is not a positive case in Cape County, but that could change at any time.” Bateman said.

Saint Francis Healthcare System President and CEO Maryann Reese said they are running a community-wide Coronavirus Test Collection Center. The drive-through testing center opened on Tuesday, March 24, in Arena Park.

The testing site, run by Saint Francis, is a partnership between Saint Francis, SoutheastHEALTH and the City of Cape Girardeau. Reese did stress that visitors will have to have a referral to visit the testing facility.

The easiest way to get the referral is to call Saint Francis’ coronavirus nurse hotline at 573-331-4200. The hotline is open seven days a week from 7 a.m.-5 p.m.

“Those nurses will walk you though a series of questions and they will determine whether you need to be tested or whether you need to just stay home and quarantine yourself,” Reese said.

Reese said if you arrive at the testing center without having a referral, you will be asked to get out of the line, go somewhere nearby and call the hotline to see if you qualify.

“The testing center is not just to come and see if you might have COVID-19,” Reese said. “It is for sick people who think they have the virus. There is a series of questions that need to be answered to order to qualify. We will be taking temperatures out there as well.”

Reese, who is also a registered nurse, said the testing facility will also help health care workers from being exposed to patients with the disease in the emergency room.

She urged those who have medical emergencies like strokes, heart attacks and being unable to breath to still come to the ER, but for those with COVID-19 symptoms that are not in immediate danger to call the hotline. By doing so, people are helping keep health care workers healthy. “As nurses and doctors, we don’t have that luxury to social distance,” Reese said.

For now, both hospitals CEO say they are in good shape for the crisis, but said that if weekly shipments of personal protective equipment are stalled, it could become critical. “It literally is week-by-week, in terms of if we are going to get our shipments, but as of now, I would say we’re okay,” Bateman said.

Both Reese and Bateman said their hospitals have tried to conserve equipment to be prepared for the worst-case scenario, having cancelled elective surgeries at both hospitals.

Bateman said the move was made to conserve protective equipment like gowns and masks, as well as save blood. He said donations to the American Red Cross are currently down, which makes the hospital’s blood supply vary each day.

“By rescheduling elective surgeries, we are trying to conserve our equipment, as well as blood supply, for the people that need it for emergency surgeries as well as urgent surgeries,” Bateman said.

He added they have also suspended volunteer services, as most volunteers at the hospital were over the age of 60 and at risk for the virus.

Cape Girardeau County Emergency Management Director Mark Winkler said a emergency operations center has been activated and includes leaders from the county, the City of Jackson and the City of Cape Girardeau. The response is led by the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center.

Winkler said area officials conduct daily morning, noon and evening briefings to monitor and update the response within the county.

“Cape Girardeau County is united and working together to protect our citizens and preparing to fight the coronavirus,” Cape Girardeau County Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy said.

Tracy said the county will continue to provide services, but are modifying operations to limit person-to-person interactions. He referred to the county Web site to see how residents can accomplish business by phone, e-mail or mail.

Jackson Mayor Dwain Hahs and Cape Girardeau Mayor Bob Fox said they are taking similar approaches to continue business but limit the spread of the virus.

“Our public safety is our number one priority,” Hahs said. “The Jackson police and fire departments have adjusted their protocols for responding to calls for service.” Emergency calls will be responded to normally, but other calls will be answered through calls or e-mails.

Jackson City Hall is currently open, but with very limited access. Residents are advised to use phone calls, the city’s Web site or the drive-through lanes to do business.

Other sites in the city, such as the Jackson Civic Center and the Jackson Senior Center are closed until further notice. Jackson parks are still open but city-organized sports are cancelled.

Fox said Cape Girardeau is taking similar precautions, closing public access to city buildings to shutting down parks and recreation programs. He said that this response could be seen as excessive but are the best ways to fight the virus’ spread. “We have a very rough road in the weeks, or maybe months, ahead,” Fox said.

Cape Girardeau County Public Health Director Jane Wernsman advised that people follow Center of Disease Control guidelines and Governor Mike Parson’s executive order. “Lets work together by staying apart,” she said.

Wernsman advised people wash their hands, cough into their elbows, avoid touching their face, stay six feet away from others and to stay home if you feel sick. Governor Parsons advised to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people, don’t eat inside restaurants and not to visit nursing homes. In addition, businesses that remain open should practice good hygiene.

Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce CEO John Mehner also asked that citizens support local businesses during this challenging time. He added that many businesses have moved online and restaurants have utilized pickup and delivery. More information can be found at

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at

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