The frontlines of a pandemic in Missouri

Doctors and nurses in St. Charles County continue the fight against COVID-19 as the state eases restrictions on social gatherings

By Brett Auten

The spigot has been released.

Beginning this week, Missouri re-opened for business.

As of Monday, the statewide restrictions on social gatherings will be gone and every business can reopen, according to Missouri Gov. Mike Parson. In Phase One, which began Monday, the governor’s plan calls for “no limitations on social gatherings, as long as necessary precautions are taken and six feet of distance can be maintained between individuals and/or families.”

As of May 1, St. Charles County has 555 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 28 deaths. The area’s healthcare professionals have been on the frontlines during these restless and challenging times. What lies ahead is almost anyone’s guess.

Dr. John Paul Shoup is a Primary Care Physician with Barnes Jewish-Christian Medical Group in Wentzville. Shoup is a board-certified pediatrician and internal medicine physician along with being Medical Director for BJC Access Center where he helps direct the virtual triage and much of the virtual care for BJC Medical Group. Shoup said the most important message for people to hear is to continue social distancing.

“When the stay-at-home orders are lifted, that does not mean that coronavirus is not present in our community,” he said. “We know that the virus spreads very easily, even before you start to show symptoms. So we need to do everything we can to continue the habits we’ve developed.”

That means, along with social distancing, limit unnecessary public activities, wear a mask when in public, avoid shaking hands or other physical contacts and wash your hands as frequently as possible. Shoup said that if we can maintain those habits then he is hopeful that we will not see a resurgence in cases.

“If we return to ‘normal life’ and don’t practice social distancing, I expect that we will see a quick resurgence in disease activity,” he added.

Marian Newton is a registered nurse and an intensive care unit charge nurse at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital. She has lived in St. Charles County for 25 years. Like most, Newton is unsure what the future holds but does believe that we may see a spike in cases of COVID-19.

“It does scare me as a healthcare worker because I feel like even with all the social distancing in place people chose to ignore it and when we go back to ‘normal’ socializing it will overwhelm the hospitals again,” she said.

Newton has been a nurse for 39 years and the COVID-19 outbreak is unlike anything she has experienced.

“We normally have maybe two-to-four ventilator patients on any given day or sometimes none,” Newton said. “Usually flu season increases that. However, since COVID started and a bit before we have had six-to-eight ventilator patients and they are very sick. The care of COVID patients is so much more intense. An RN can literally be in their room for an hour at a time and the patients require more medications to keep them stable and oxygenated.”

Newton admitted at first, many thought that COVID-19 was just another virus but as time went on and they experienced sicker and sicker patients, the realization hit that this was so much different. Newton’s hospital first limited the visitors to one at a bedside then rather quickly changed that to no visitors. This made for an eerily silent work environment.

“It also made it sad for the patients without having any family with them,” she said. “We do have the ability to have families camera in on their loved ones in order to see them and talk to them. Most of the patients we have however are sedated so the family will not get any reply from the patient.”

Shoup called these times, “unprecedented.”

“This is the sort of thing that you learn about in medical school, but never something that you expect to actually happen,” Shoup said. “Missouri has had over 300 people pass away, and more than 8,000 people infected with a disease that didn’t exist six months ago.”

Hospitals have canceled all procedures or in-person evaluations that are not necessary and there are very few patients, even those infected with COVID-19, coming into offices.

“We are staying busy by providing virtual care for our patients- for instance through video visits,” Shoup said. “But it is strange to practice medicine from behind a computer screen. We do still see patients in our practices, but only when absolutely necessary- we want to avoid any unnecessary exposure.”

And as far as getting back to some sort of normalcy?

“I am not sure we will ever be back to how it was before COVID 19,” Newton said. “In one aspect that is great because maybe we have taught people to be more conscious of washing their hands and sanitizing more. In another, I think we will always be frightened it may happen again. We can just hope the scientists come up with a vaccine and better treatment.”

CUTLINE: Photos courtesy Barnes Jewish-Christian Medical Group 

Cover-Doctors1 Healthcare professionals from the Barnes Jewish-Christian respiratory clinic in O’Fallon show some of the personal protective equipment that has become the new norm for healthcare professionals.

Cover-Doctros2 Dr. John Hartweger of Barnes Jewish St. Peters Hospital wears the personal protective equipment that has become the new norm for healthcare professionals.

Cover-Doctors3 Nurse Marian Newton of Barnes Jewish St. Peters Hospital wears the personal protective equipment that has become the new norm for healthcare professionals.