On Oct. 3, the last Pettis County COVID-19 Task Force meeting was hosted, with the final report released the next day through Nixle.
The task force first met in January or February 2020 in the Pettis County Commission Chambers before the first official COVID-19 case was reported in Pettis County.
Pettis County Health Center Administrator JoAnn Martin said representatives from different organizations, government agencies and more met to discuss a strange new virus that was starting a problem.
“I shared with the group that this (COVID-19 pandemic) is coming, we don’t know what exactly it’s going to look like, but all the predictions are is this is going to be serious and we’re going to have to figure how to deal with it,” Martin said.
Soon after, the pandemic hit the state and Gov. Mike Parson started making decisions about closures, schools, limiting the number of people that could be in a space and other COVID-related restrictions. The local task force tried to figure out how these would work in Pettis County and what the task force was going to do to protect the county.
The first task force daily report was released in April 2020 before being changed to weekly updates in June 2020 until Oct. 3, 2022.
“(Pettis County Presiding Commissioner) David Dick is actually the one who came up with it to keep everybody informed,” Martin said. “There was a lot of confusion in those early days. We didn’t know what was going to happen, we didn’t know where it was going. We were getting a lot of information from the governor's office and from the Department of Health and Senior Services saying that you need to do this, you need to do that.”
All those regulations and rules came through public health due to Missouri statutes that state anything related to communicable disease and the control of communicable disease, which includes COVID-19, had to go through public health departments.
“We were the messenger, which didn’t make us particularly popular with people, but we were the messenger for what was coming down,” Martin said.
The task force’s main purpose was to provide a consistent operating picture of what was happening in Pettis County.
Martin added that there were a lot of people afraid, jobs were lost, and people needed services, so the task force became a way for local agencies to communicate with each other and keep residents informed. Those agencies included Bothwell Regional Health Center, Katy Trail Community Health, Pettis County Ambulance District, Pettis County Health Center, the county and the city.
“By having this meeting every week was very helpful as this process moved on,” Martin said. “It gave everybody that snapshot picture of what did it look like in Pettis County.”
The county saw significant peaks and lows in how many residents had COVID. Pettis County’s highest peak was in January 2022, with 2,545 cases.
The task force reports included the county's COVID report, but it would also report state cases, ICU numbers and deaths, along with other pertinent pandemic information.
Martin noted the task force was a way for the data to be communicated to residents, but it wasn’t meant to be permanent. While it served the community well during the height of the pandemic, it was time for the task force to end as the community learned to live with COVID-19.
“COVID is not gone. We’re not over it; it has changed,” Martin said. “It is still going to impact us for a long time going forward. The virus itself is probably never going to completely go away. The only disease that has ever been completely conquered is smallpox, so the COVID virus as we know it now will probably never go away.”
The virus will most likely continue to have mutations, but Martin pointed out there are ways to deal with it now, such as through home testing, vaccinations, and medical treatments.
“We should not discount the impact that COVID can have, but we also have to live with it,” Martin said. “We’re going to see more respiratory illnesses going forward.”
Since Oct. 3, there have been 119 cases of COVID in Pettis County and around 40 of those cases were from close contact.
To stay updated on Pettis County’s COVID-19 case count, visit pettiscountyhealthcenter.com.