“I think we’re losing the battle,” Chris Gilliam told Rotarians Tuesday, referring to Howell County’s ongoing fight with the COVID-19 pandemic. “But I hope and pray we’ll win the war.”
Gilliam, administrator of the Howell County Health Department, was the guest speaker Tuesday at the West Plains Rotary Club’s weekly luncheon held at the Historic Post Office in downtown West Plains.
Speaking to the civic organization, he first provided background information on the novel coronavirus and described some of the new symptoms they have seen pop up recently.
“We have been seeing more people getting diarrhea as part of their symptoms and losing their sense of taste,” Gilliam said, stressing that the loss of taste isn’t a dulling, but rather a complete and noticeable loss.
Gilliam said that COVID cases in Howell County have been increasing and that, as of Tuesday, the seven-day positivity test rate is a little over 66%.
“The CDC recommends having a positivity test rate of 5%,” Gilliam noted, but he pointed out the reason the positivity rate is so high is because testing is primarily being done on symptomatic people. If widespread testing was done, he said, the rate would go done, but likely not to 5%.
COVID infections have impacted every nursing home in the county and most of the COVID-related deaths are the result of that, Gilliam said. As of Tuesday afternoon, the health department reported 40 COVID-related deaths in the county.
After the meeting, he told the Quill of a lag in the reporting of deaths, which have to be confirmed by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, and said the actual current death total is likely higher.
“COVID is kicking our butts,” Gilliam said, adding that he is concerned that, with the number of cases rising and flu season approaching, hospitals could become overwhelmed.
Gilliam said people need to do what they can to help slow the spread, because completely stopping it is not an option, until a vaccine is readily available.
Conservative estimates are that a viable, readily available COVID vaccine will likely not be ready until spring of next year, he noted.
“It takes a long time to develop a vaccine, make sure it’s safe and then produce and distribute enough of it,” he said. “It’s amazing what has been done so far.”
According to Gilliam, there have been many strides made in the development of treatments for COVID, such as using a combination of steroids and antiviral medications, but much of what is done to treat COVID has been focused on minimizing the disease’s symptoms.
“We all have a part to do, meaning wear a mask, social distance, wash your hands,” Gilliam said. “We need to get away from the mindset of ‘it’s all about me or my family,’ but rather what’s good for the community.”
He said though the health board continues to strongly encourage masking, it does not support a masking mandate, which was affirmed by the board at its August and October meetings.
During those meetings, Board President Dr. Robert Shaw was asked if there would be any point in which the board would consider mandating masks and he replied that there would be “no line in the sand,” and that the mandate would be a burden on law enforcement to enforce and bad for local businesses.
The next Howell County Health Board meeting is 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in health department building, 180 Kentucky Ave., West Plains. The public is welcome.