Petersburg COVID outbreak stresses staff at school district and medical center

Petersburg Medical Center includes a clinic, hospital, emergency room, and long term care. (KFSK photo)

Petersburg’s third COVID-19 outbreak is on its way to becoming its worst, and it’s stressing the school district and local medical center.

There are 50 active COVID-19 cases in Petersburg now, 17 of them in schools. There are also 99 pending test results through the medical center, so providers are expecting more cases.

The first week of November was a rough week, says Phil Hofstetter, CEO of the Petersburg Medical Center.

“Starting on Monday, we just got hammered with cases,” he said.

He says the center’s staff is struggling to test and vaccinate people as well as take care of patients like they normally would.

“Our staffing is super thin. We have people working incredibly long hours,” Hofstetter said.

And Hofstetter says they lose staff every outbreak from burnout.

“No question, direct correlation to outbreaks,” Hofstetter said. “It’s super hard to do this. Fielding the calls, people are angry, we can’t get the messaging right — we’re providing too much information, we’re providing too little information. We can’t get the tests turned around. You know, it all gets to our staff.”

The Petersburg School District is also dealing with staff pressure says Superintendent, Erica Kludt-Painter.

“They are tired,” she said. “When these cases rise it creates a lot of extra work. It adds a huge layer of stress on everyone.”

Kludt-Painter says a lot of staff are pulling extra shifts and taking over different classes. Some students are quarantining at home and attending school virtually, so teachers are tasked with hybrid classrooms both online and in-person.

She says she’s not sure how much longer they can sustain the extra load.

“It’s really happening fast this week for sure,” Kludt-Painter said. “And right now our staffing is on the verge.”

The school district is responsible for contact tracing among students and staff, which is a directive from the state. Kludt-Painter says they’ve seen how much events and activities outside of the schools are affecting students.

“We are definitely being impacted by those, and it’s taking our kids out, you know, for eight to ten days at a time. Which is definitely having an impact on their learning and their time away from their peers — and certainly has an impact on their families,” Kludt-Painter said.

Local medical providers, like Dr. Selina Burt, have linked the current outbreak to gatherings in the community as well as travel.

“We have had people coming in and out for medical reasons, leaving the island and coming back, and part of it is related to that,” Burt said. “We’ve had some community events with churches and schools that look like they’re related to some of the spread.”

The medical center is low on rapid tests and is sending most tests out of town. The hospital gets an allotment of 120 rapid cartridges a month from the state, which they’ve been saving them for high-risk individuals. Which means some residents with symptoms are waiting days for their results.

Burt says people should be patient and stay in quarantine.

“If you have one person in your household that is confirmed positive, just assume that all of those other tests that have been sent out are going to be positive as well,” she said.

Unfortunately, it looks like the outbreak won’t slow down any time soon.

There were several gatherings around Halloween, and Burt says cases from those events are likely to surface in the coming days.

KFSK - Petersburg

KFSK is our partner station in Petersburg. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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