On Nov. 19, St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann sent a notice to 1,401 licensed restaurant and bar owners in St. Charles County regarding the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and the continuing spread of COVID-19.
Due to the fact that the county does not license bars and restaurants in St. Peters, those establishments were not included.
The letter’s purpose was to serve as a reminder for restaurant and bar owners regarding the presence of local health officials in these institutions to make sure protocols are being followed, specifically in regards to crowd control during the Thanksgiving holiday.
“For months, our county had been able to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19, seeing just slow, gradual growth in the community,” Ehlmann wrote in his letter. “Unfortunately, we are now facing a severe rise in positive cases, a significant increase in hospitalizations, as well as an increase in the number of deaths. The hospitalizations have put a strain on all inpatient medical services. For these reasons, I am calling on each county resident to do what is necessary to help us get this virus under control.
“…I am aware that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is a very busy bar evening for many of you. Crowds not wearing masks and not respecting six-foot distancing requirements represent an imminent health hazard. The Department of Public Health, Environmental Health Division will be out in force that evening ensuring you are taking the steps necessary to ensure the safety of patrons.”
As of Nov. 20, the St. Charles County Public Health Department reported that the rate of change in positive cases over the past 14 days reflects a 75% increase.
“If you look at data from a week ago, we were seeing about 200 cases per day, and now we’re seeing 300 to 400 cases per day, which is a very large volume,” Sara Evers, assistant director of public health, said.
In St. Charles County, about 46% of positive COVID-19 cases have involved community contacts or exposure from an unknown source. The latter, according to Evers, means the department was unable to trace the contraction back to a verifiable source.
“I will say that we are not able to keep up with the volume right now, so there are cases where we have not interviewed or gathered this information about yet, and so, there is a risk,” Evers said. “Once you have community spread, any event that you attend and any place that you go where you’re not physically distancing and wearing a mask can pose a risk to you.”
As for why the notice was geared toward bars and restaurants as opposed to other institutions, Evers said it relates back to the way that COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets at close distances, and that patrons remove masks to eat and drink when dining on-site.
“The other piece of this as for why dining establishments and bars is because we know those are places where people may remove their mask to eat or to drink, and be in a closer proximity because most of our tables are not six feet wide for us to sit at a further distance from company,” Evers said. “So, if we’re in a social setting where we may be taking off our masks to eat or consume a beverage, we’re able to expel those droplets if we are infectious.”
A few days before issuing the letter, Ehlmann also issued a reminder to residents to take additional precautions against the spread of COVID-19 on Nov. 17. This included a precautionary reminders such as limiting daily activities outside of work and necessary errands, keeping weekly contacts to less than 10 people, and wearing a mask when with people outside of one’s household. In that same set of guidelines, Ehlmann also encouraged residents to use carry-out rather than dining in, and to avoid bars and restaurants where social distancing is not possible.
While no new restrictions or mandates were announced, a new public awareness campaign regarding the COVID-19 precautions was announced. The campaign includes informational billboards, social media messaging and mailers, which will be out to all St. Charles County homes – 160,783 – the week of Nov. 22.
In the meantime, officials from the public health department will be out in the field checking on restaurants and bars around St. Charles County, and providing feedback and guidance as needed.
“We will have staff that will be in the field around the Thanksgiving holiday, just taking not of what’s going on and having those conversations with the management of those facilities to offer suggestions on how they can set up their facility better, or to commend those that are doing a good job of observing the pieces that we know work,” Evers said.