A year later: Autumn 2020 was the lowest point in the COVID-19 crisis | Local news – Community News
Covid-19

A year later: Autumn 2020 was the lowest point in the COVID-19 crisis | Local news

What a difference a year makes.

By this time last year, COVID-19 cases at Joplin’s two hospitals had hit an all-time high, with hospitalizations in the 1950s and 1960s and deaths from COVID-19 recorded almost daily.

The Joplin metro area has previously been in a so-called bubble since the March and April 2020 national lockdown. Countless cases and deaths had been recorded by officials from both Freeman Health System and Mercy Hospital Joplin, but nothing resembled the rest of the nation. or even the urban areas of Missouri were experiencing at the time.

“You expected things to explode like ‘they did in the Joplin area last November, but at the time,’ we weren’t initially affected like other places in the US or even St. Louis,” said Dr. Saima Memon, medical director of the intensive care unit and medical director of respiratory therapy at Mercy Hospital Joplin. “And then Northwest Arkansas was hit, and again it missed us, so we were kind of hopeful that it would hit us by the time” or the vaccines would be available or “we might be better off getting over it.”

That almost happened. Mercy’s Dr. Eden Esguerra was the first Joplin resident to receive the Pfizer vaccine at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 14. She called it a “great day.”

Late, but not late enough

The second wave of the original COVID-19 strain took root in the Joplin area in the last week of October, fueled by Halloween activities. It would gain a foothold and wreak havoc throughout the month of November.

“November 2020 has been an exhausting month,” said Dr. Rob McNab, director of Freeman Health System’s COVID-19 unit. “In that month, the number of COVID patients exploded, peaking at about 60 in-patients. While we had more… resources to care for these critically ill patients, we were also a year dealing with the pandemic, and so emotionally and physically exhausted.”

Those rising numbers, McNab continued, “bringing a sense of moving further away from our goal of taking control of the situation and being able to bring about more normalcy in our lives.”

It’s definitely been a challenging month, added Paula Baker, Freeman’s president and CEO, “but I think it’s hard for me to pinpoint an exact low because when (COVID-19) first popped up with all the uncertainty and all the fears that people had… it was definitely something very new and very different and, frankly, very terrifying When it first popped up nobody really knew what the consequences were or what to expect – where would it go and when would it stop, or would it ever stop.”

From mid-March to October 30, 2020, Joplin’s health department recorded 2,209 positive COVID-19 cases and 36 deaths. During the same period, health departments in Jasper and Newton counties reported 3,556 cases and 54 deaths and 2,222 cases and 33 deaths, respectively.

By the morning of December 1, 2020 — a period of just 31 days — Joplin’s cases had increased with 1,406 verified cases and 26 deaths. Jasper County registered an increase of nearly 2,000 cases and 21 deaths. The number of cases in Newton County had risen from 2,222 to 3,147, with 14 deaths. All told, Jasper and Newton counties, including Joplin, recorded 4,311 positive COVID-19 cases and 61 deaths during the month of November.

“It was very traumatic,” Memon said last November. “It went very, very bad and it was a very dark time in medicine. When you study medicine, you read about things like (pandemic). You read about the history of cholera… but you don’t really think you’ll ever see anything like it, especially in this day and age. These days you expect that we have a cure for everything. You hear things like (COVID-19) in Africa or third world countries, but you don’t expect this to happen in your neck of the woods, so yeah, it was a really tough time.”

“In a week in November, I had three fellow doctors who all had COVID infections and had to go into isolation,” McNab said. “It seemed like more and more patients were being treated by fewer and fewer doctors and nurses.”

But there was an advantage that COVID-19 arrived in the Joplin metro area late in November instead of March or June of that year. Because of that late arrival, Baker said, “we got the wisdom of what (the others) had learned while dealing with those early days of COVID.”

Measures taken to ‘slow down the spread’

To that end, drastic changes were made to stem the rising tide of COVID-19 cases and deaths in November. In the first week of November alone, Jasper and Newton counties registered 1,000 new cases and 17 deaths, an increase of 11.2% and 13.4% respectively.

• On Nov. 12, both Freeman and Missouri Southern State University officials made sweeping changes to slow the spread, with Freeman limiting one visitor per patient per day, while MSSU switched to online learning. On that day, there were 41 COVID-19 patients in Freeman and 47 in Mercy Hospital Joplin.

• On Tuesday, Nov. 17, Missouri hospitals urged Missouri Governor Mike Parson to take on a statewide mask mandate, with Herb Kuhn, president and CEO of the Missouri Hospital Association, saying that COVID-19 “ the wolf at the door” belongs to every Missouri resident. No such mandate has ever been issued by Jefferson City.

• On Wednesday, November 18, representatives from Freeman, Mercy, Access Health, the Joplin Community Clinic, Kansas City University-Joplin, and the Jasper County Health Department sent letters to all local government agencies requesting action on COVID-19 to address both the hinder its spread as the pressure on Joplin’s two regional hospitals.

• Just two days later, members of the Joplin City Council heard testimony from representatives of six hospitals and health authorities and issued a new mask mandate 6 to 3, which would remain in effect until the end of February.

• By November 22, 2020, an average of 3,900 new COVID-19 cases were reported each day by the state health department, with “more new cases reported in October and November than during the first eight months of the pandemic,” according to The Associated Press . The Thanksgiving holiday was muted, with local charity dinners postponed or moved to takeout only, and the Joplin Christmas Parade was canceled outright.

• On Tuesday, December 1, 2020, local and state health officials declared November 2020 to be the “worst month” yet for COVID-19 infections.

Overall, “I believe that communities uniting to protect each other have had a dramatic impact on exposure to COVID,” McNab said.

A glimmer of hope

By mid-December 2020, when frontline health workers were first vaccinated, COVID-19 had sickened 13,821 and killed 223 local residents in both Jasper and Newton counties – dating as of mid-March. More than a third of those positive cases and deaths were recorded between late October and mid-December.

“The vaccine felt like a ray of hope, like ‘OK, now we have a vaccine here and you can see some light at the end of the tunnel’ now that people were vaccinated,” Memon said. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines “were the game changers. We were so excited.”

“When the vaccines became available, we all felt such hope and such promise for the future,” Baker added, “and it certainly has been realized.”

McNab asked what the region could do to ensure there is never another November 2020. He quoted philosopher George Santayana: “Those who do not learn from their past are doomed to repeat it.”

Ultimately, we need to “keep doing the things that good science has shown us to be effective in limiting the spread” of disease, including hand washing, masking, social distancing and vaccination, McNab said.