Jon K. Rust

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


Emerson tests Covid-free in D.C., while cases rise in Sikeston

A few weeks ago, I reported about the outbreak of COVID-19 at the Sikeston Convalescent Center, where at the time 16 of 19 residents on the memory wing tested positive. According to several sources, cases there continue to spread. One of them cited the total number of COVID-19 at the facility, including staff, to be "at least 27 cases." One reason for the spike is that more residents and staff were tested this week as part of a general test program.

The Scott County Health Department is not disclosing information about where cases are located, even if there are commonalities. But more people who are connected to the convalescent center think others should know.

Brad Bedell, president of the facility's operating company, confirmed as of Friday that 30 cases were affiliated with the center, including 19 residents and 11 staff. He said families and staff are fully apprised of steps being taken, but that it is not germane to the larger community. Still, he answered questions with the hope of tamping down concerns.

For example, contrary to rumors, staff does have proper personal protective equipment (PPE), including N95 masks, face shields, proper gowns and foot coverings, Bedell said, which was confirmed by my sources. Regarding complaints such as the facility taking too long in setting up an isolated wing for those with COVID-19, Bedell stressed: "That's not true. We have treated everybody in the dementia unit as if everybody was positive from day one. There has been no cross contamination at all."

As for how new cases emerged in a different wing, Bedell suggested it may have originated from a patient who needed specialized services.

Bedell cited a letter shared with families and phone calls made individually to family members with questions, but he was reluctant to share publicly, in part to protect the privacy of residents.

"All families are called weekly with updates and all were contacted Thursday by the social service director," he wrote in a follow-up text.

There are few things that are easy in battling the high transmissibility of Covid-19, especially in areas of communal living. But what should be clear to everyone is that just because "stay-at-home orders" are loosening in Southeast Missouri, no one should stop following health guidelines, including keeping long-term care facilities closed to visitors, maintaining social distancing in public or at work, staying away from large gatherings, and wearing masks when shopping.

Some people are confused to think that such health precautions are to prevent themselves from getting sick. There's truth to that, but it's also to prevent being an asymptomatic carrier of the disease, which means you've been infected and are contagious but show none of the common symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath. According to research, 25% to 50% of those who contract COVID-19 may not show symptoms, making it more likely they will unknowingly infect others, including those who may be more vulnerable because of age or other risk factors.

What else is clear is that if America is going to successfully reopen, it is vital that states provide more support to long-term care facilities -- including access to rapid testing -- and individuals most at risk should continue to isolate themselves as much as possible.

Some people seem to believe all states and counties should stay totally shut or that everything should be re-opened, caveat emptor. The likelihood, though, as herd immunity and vaccines are developed: COVID-19 will be with us for a long time. Being at one of the extremes -- everything closed or open -- is either unsustainable and foolhardy or unnecessarily callous. Better for us all to take personal responsibility and follow health guidelines, protect the most vulnerable, while gradually opening the economy.

Some good news: Former U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson has apparently recovered from COVID-19. She tested negative on Thursday.

"I just want to thank everyone for their prayers," said her husband Ron Gladney.

Gladney called Emerson a tough woman, who has defied the odds a number of times. Doctors gave her a low chance of survival each step of the way from suffering a brain hemorrhage in Italy, going through emergency surgery, to moving back to America in a vulnerable state. And now: surviving coronavirus.

"Doctors and medical staff are great, but you don't take all they say as gospel," Gladney told me over the phone on Thursday. "I truly believe there is a real power in prayer. Jo Ann had the biggest smile when the negative result came back."

In an April 30 letter to resident family members, management at Knollwood, the life plan community where Emerson lives, gave a full update of what was transpiring at the campus, including: "Despite our tireless efforts to fight this invisible enemy, we are very saddened to report that we have lost 6 residents and 1 staff member to COVID-19. The residents lived in the Skilled Nursing facility. Our hearts go out to their families."

Management shared how it was managing PPE and testing.

"As of our last communication, we have continued to secure additional personal protective equipment (PPE), like face shields, gowns, gloves, and N95 masks, staying ahead of demand for PPE. We also launched a proactive, comprehensive COVID-19 testing program. We completed baseline testing last week on nearly 600 residents, employees, and private aides. ALL Independent and Assisted Living residents tested negative -- all Covid free. As a result, we have advised independent living residents that they can leave their residences if they stay on campus and wear protective face masks and adhere to the social distancing regulations advised by the DC Department of Health and the CDC. We supplied your family members with masks, including cloth masks and surgical masks. Residents are also allowed to leave the campus, but must follow our screening and self-isolation procedures when they return."

Management also explained the best ways for families to have questions answered, which included a "Family Briefing" conference call with all who wanted to participate. After one of these calls on Friday, Gladney called me back to caution: Residents who previously tested positive and then negative are retested after two days.

"So Jo Ann will be retested on Saturday [May 2] to confirm the negative result," he said.

Meanwhile, all residents and staff are tested at least every 10 days, regardless of prior results, he said.

I share this information, because it shows how a long-term care facility, one of the best in the nation, keeps its community informed -- and seeks to mitigate risks proactively. And yet: preventing fatalities was impossible.

My prayers remain with all those facing coronavirus, including the residents, ownership, management and staff at the Sikeston Convalescent Center. I also raise a prayer of thanks and continued good results for Emerson. For the rest of us, let's maintain balance and not exacerbate the vitriol and panic. The future -- lessening what top health officials are calling the "inevitable second wave" -- depends on opening things up gradually and with prudent social distancing, being smart and maintaining personal responsibility, while providing extra care to our most vulnerable.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian.