Jon K. Rust

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


New governor’s report highlights Covid risk in Southeast Missouri


Covid-19 cases continue to steadily increase in the area with more young people testing positive for the disease. According to Cape Girardeau County officials, at least five confirmed local cases have been connected with the Lake of the Ozarks exposure from May 29 to May 31. There are now more individuals 20-29 years old who have tested positive than any other age group in Cape County. These individuals are recovering or have already recovered, all without needing hospitalization.

Meanwhile, deaths in Southeast Missouri, especially south of Cape Girardeau, continue to rise. But nearly all are tied to retirement homes.

A question that came to my email Thursday was whether Southeast Hospital was running out of beds for Covid patients. The questioner had overheard a comment from a local nurse.

According to Shauna Hoffman, vice president of marketing at SoutheastHEALTH, the answer is “No. The hospital is not running out of beds.

“We staff beds and open up capacity according to need,” she said.

Most important is availability of ventilators and negative air rooms, and she said the hospital has more than enough ready to activate if needed.

“We do have nine Covid positive patients in our dedicated units today, which is on the higher side. But it’s not unmanageable.”

Hoffman said the hospital has a capacity of 70 ventilators, and only seven are currently in use.

Reports from Saint Francis Healthcare system indicate plenty of capacity there, too.

A new disease model from the Missouri governor’s office, however, highlights Southeast Missouri as one of the fastest growing disease areas in the state. The “State of Missouri regional COVID-19 hospitalized cases model,” shows the most concerning spike against prior highs is likely to be experienced in the Southeast/Cape Girardeau region, though a note on the graph specifically disclaims: “Due to low levels of hospitalized COVID-19 cases, modeling projections are highly sensitive to slight shifts in observed data and must be interpreted with extra caution.”

The model forecasts a worst-case scenario around 57 concurrent hospitalizations later this month – and rising. While 57 would be well below local capacity, the trend line is not good.

“With the governor’s stay-at-home order expiring, people feel that we’re free and clear,” Hoffman said. “That couldn’t be farther from the truth. But there’s no cause to worry about the availability of local beds.” She stressed the need to continue wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands, staying home if sick, and “if experiencing symptoms, contact your healthcare provider right away.”

In remarks Tuesday when moving the state to the next phase of reopening, Gov. Mike Parson made a similar point.

“We must remember that COVID-19 is not gone,” Gov. Parson said. “It is still extremely important for everyone to continue social distancing. Be proactive. Avoid large, congested crowds and, if you can’t social distance, take extra precautions to protect yourself and those around you. We all know how to do this now and it is up to us to take responsibility for our own actions."

On the good side, daily deaths and hospitalizations as a whole in the state have declined precipitously from highs in April and May. And those more often testing positive for the disease are those most likely to have mild symptoms and recover. Still, as more young people are infected, if precautions are not taken, the greater risk there is for the most vulnerable. Please be vigilant about taking care of others, wearing masks in stores and social distancing, especially around the elderly.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian.