Springfield-Greene County Health Dept. confirms county's first COVID-19 death

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The Springfield-Greene County Health Department says the fight against COVID-19 is at a turning point. Director Clay Goddard announced the county's first death from the virus Monday evening.

Cases in Greene County jumped to 17 overall midday Monday. Four of those new cases are tied to a Springfield assisted living facility. County health leaders found out one of those four died from the virus Monday afternoon. The woman is in her 80s. Her name has not been released.

The Missouri Department of Health is working with care providers at Morningside of Springfield-East to prevent the spread there. Springfield-Greene County Health Department Director Clay Goodard says these are the first cases in the county not spread from another case or related to travel.

Citizens who make their home in residential care facilities, assisted living facilities, intermediate care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, as well as those who receive their daily care in adult day care centers are particularly vulnerable to this virus.

State officials communicated earlier this month with administrators of long-term care facilities in Missouri to recommend restrictions on communal dining and group activities and emphasize the high-risk nature of this group. These recommendations include but are not limited to the following:

Facilities should restrict visitation of all visitors and non-essential health care personnel, except for certain compassionate care situations, such as an end-of-life situation. In those cases, visitors will be limited to a specific room only. Facilities are expected to notify potential visitors to defer visitation until further notice.

For individuals that enter in compassionate situations (e.g., end-of-life care), facilities should require visitors to perform hand hygiene and use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as face masks. Decisions about visitation during an end-of-life situation should be made on a case by case basis, which should include careful screening of the visitor (including clergy, bereavement counselors, etc.) for fever or respiratory symptoms. Those with symptoms of a respiratory infection (fever, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat) should not be permitted to enter the facility at any time (even in end-of-life situations). Those visitors that are permitted, must wear a face mask while in the building and restrict their visit to the resident’s room or other location designated by the facility. They should also be reminded to frequently perform hand hygiene.

"Since our initial preparations began in January, we have highlighted the risk for certain groups such as the elderly and those in long-term care facilities and subsequently instructed facilities to impose restrictions on visitation," said Dr. Randall Williams, director of DHSS. "We have been emphasizing the importance of infection control plans for these facilities, and we are actively working on this particular situation with our colleagues in Springfield."

State health officials and the Springfield-Greene County Health Department together instituted an action plan to mitigate any progression of the virus. Personal protective equipment is being delivered to the facility to protect workers involved in this situation. Over the weekend, testing was performed by the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory in order to detect these positive cases.

"This is not a surprising development, but one we are sad to see nonetheless," said SGCHD Director of Health Clay Goddard. "We take each new person falling ill personally. Our department, and our broader community, are resolved in fighting this illness."

To protect the patients’ right to privacy, identifying information will not be provided. As part of the regular practice of disease investigation, the Health Department will notify people who have had contact with these patients.

Goddard asks for cooperation from the public.

"We need everyone to do nothing right now," said Goodard. "That means you stay at home, don't mingle in social settings. By mingling, you are creating opportunities for the virus to spread."

County leaders recommend you monitor any possible symptoms if you turn sick. The county has conducted nearly 350 tests in the last few weeks. If you feel you need a test, you are asked to call your doctor. Your doctor will then address how to get a test.

Goddard says the community is doing many things similar to stay-at-home ordered cities. He says his team is working to craft new guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.