Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.


An update on masks, rapid tests and ventilators in Cape

To help residents understand the facts around COVID-19 in our area, I'm providing answers to common questions posed to the newspaper. Sources of information today include both local hospitals, as well as the Cape Girardeau County Department of Public Health. I also talked to some officials who shared information, not for attribution, but which I verified. Here are some questions and answers.

Do you know of any of the "rapid tests" coming to Cape Girardeau?

The official response is that local officials are "hopeful that rapid tests will be coming to Cape Girardeau soon." But unofficially, there is a tug of war taking place with the government, which is directing the new, faster tests to the nation's "hotspots," which are 17 states/cities experiencing the highest cases of COVID-19.

Some local entities are making the case for the broad rural area served by medical providers here, but the decision is out of their control.

In the meantime, local tests are taking 2-7 days to process.

What is the current status of ventilators for this area?

"We are comfortable with the volume of ventilators we have available based on current patient volume and projected need," Danielle Torbet with Saint Francis Healthcare system wrote me in an email Friday.

Her comments were echoed by hospital CEO Maryann Reese in a Facebook Live presentation on Thursday. According to Reese, the hospital has 136 ventilators with 12 in use, leaving current available capacity at 124.

At SoutheastHEALTH, its COVID-19 Command Center reports it has 75 ventilators with 9 currently in use. Some emergency kits also have ventilators, Southeast's Shauna Hoffman said, which can be used to increase local capacity if needed.

What is the status of personal protection equipment for local hospital staff?

Here are the raw numbers for Southeast HEALTH, as of Friday:

Eye Protection on hand, 418.

On order: 4,200

Gowns Isolation on hand, 39,500.

On order: 0

Gowns (other) on hand, 3,700.

On order: 60

N95 Mask on hand, 5,948.

On order: 35,750

Mask (other) on hand, 12,155

On order: 12,875

According to Reese's briefing on Facebook, Saint Francis numbers were low in a few areas earlier in the week, but a shipment came in, putting the hospital at 30+ days of inventory in all areas except N95 Masks, where it has 1,410 or "18 days on hand."

Torbet wrote in her email: "Currently, all colleagues and providers are in the appropriate personal protective equipment. Saint Francis Healthcare System is taking added precautions by placing all colleagues and providers in cloth masks. Direct patient care colleagues are given eye shields as an added layer of protection when caring for patients at the bedside or in clinics.

"Because there are asymptomatic people who actually have the disease we have decided to put all of our patients in cloth masks as well for an added layer of protection," she continued. "We will continue to monitor the current supply of PPE to ensure our staff and patients are protected during this pandemic."

Putting my column together today was a bit tight on deadline. In future, I hope to provide more context. But the numbers should give you some insight -- and relief according to current area needs. Of course, if we do not socially distance, stay at home, wash hands frequently, the numbers can spike, putting more stress on local health staff and equipment. So be smart and safe out there.

And, if you're looking for a place to help in this time of uncertainty, one very important thing you can do is give blood. "Each donation truly saves a life!" Hoffman told me, when I asked if there is anything else the public could be doing. Contact the American Red Cross for more information: (573) 335-9471. Or sign-up at www.redcrossblood.org.

If you have a question, please email me at jrust@semissourian.com or comment beneath this column online. I'll try to find an answer for you.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian.