News Briefs

COVID creates more staffing issues for Missouri law enforcement

By: - December 8, 2020 9:58 am

The deaths data, which the department calls “probable” COVID-19 fatalities, is being added eight months after the department began reporting antigen-identified infections in its daily report (image courtesy of CDC).

COVID-19 is disrupting more law enforcement operations around the state as illness combines with existing staffing shortages.

The Pike County Sheriff’s Office in northeast Missouri sent all its inmates to neighboring Audrain County in late November, and the Springfield Police Department on Monday closed the lobby of police headquarters for at least two days.

And as hospitalizations statewide remain stubbornly high, CoxHealth in Springfield has added 33 beds to its COVID-19 unit as it anticipates additional patients from cases that have developed since Thanksgiving.

The Pike County Jail has been plagued by long-term staffing issues caused by low pay, Sheriff Stephen Korte wrote on the department’s Facebook page. The base pay of jailers, who are typically not commissioned peace officers, has increased $2 an hour since 2008 while the minimum wage will have increased by $3.65 an hour as of Jan. 1.

“Jailers have to work over nights, weekends and have to deal people who aren’t always the nicest folks in our community and who really don’t appreciate being locked up,” Korte wrote. “This for a salary that is equal to or less than places like Walmart or fast food restaurants.”

The detainees of the jail were sent to Audrain County on Nov. 24, Korte wrote. There has been no update reporting when they will returned. Howard County sent its inmates to neighboring Cooper County about the same time because jailers, some deputies and Sheriff Mike Neal were in quarantine for COVID-19.

Pike County had 554 new coronavirus infections in November and has added 108 so far this month, according to data from the Department of Health and Senior Services. It had the 14th highest per capita rate of new infections in November and is 20th among the 117 local health jurisdictions for the past seven days.

The state health department reported 3,250 new infections Tuesday and the weekly review of deaths found 137 that had not been reported previously, department spokeswoman Lisa Cox wrote in an email. There were 161 total deaths reported Tuesday, bringing the state total for the pandemic to 4,355.

The seven-day average for newly reported cases stood at 3,645 per day on Tuesday and the state dashboard average, with cases through Saturday, stood at 3,294 per day.

There were 2,628 people hospitalized as of Saturday, the health department reported. Data from the Missouri Hospital Association, updated through Friday, showed that fewer than 11.5 percent of adult ICU beds and fewer than 18 percent of all adult inpatient beds were available.

At a news conference, CoxHealth CEO Steve Edwards said he anticipates hospitalizations will increase because Greene County had more than 600 new cases in recent days and hospitalizations generally lag new diagnoses by about three weeks.

“We have said from the beginning that we would rather build spaces and not need them, then need them and not have them,” Ewards said in a news release. “Our great hope is that we never need this expansion to care for COVID-19 patients, but it will have been worth it to us to have it ready if we do.”

Like Pike County, the issue with keeping the lobby open at the Springfield Police Department is a combination of staffing shortages and COVID-19 cases among officers and employees, the department stated in a Facebook post.

While the main headquarters lobby is expected to reopen today, other facilities remain closed to the public, the department stated

“The lobby of the Springfield Police Department South District station remains closed indefinitely,” the department stated.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.

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