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

There are 50 active COVID cases in Petersburg now. While a few cases expired Thursday, seven new cases were added. 17 of the cases are within the three schools. There are 99 pending test results through the medical center so providers are expecting more cases.

This week’s outbreak is stressing the school district and local medical center. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

This outbreak is the third one Petersburg has seen in the pandemic and it’s on its way to becoming the worst.

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 medical staff is trying to test and vaccinate the masses as well as take care of patients like they normally would.

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

Not everyone is sticking around. Hofstetter says they lose staff every outbreak from burn out.

“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.”

She 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. Kludt-Painter is not sure how much longer they can sustain the extra load.

“It’s really happening fast this week for sure,” said Kludt-Painter. “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 through that 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 also 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 but have been saving them for high risk individuals. So, 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.

The hospital is starting to use some extra rapid tests that the school district has from the state, which give results in about 30 minutes. The school district is also encouraging families to take home some of the testing kits.

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.

Phil Hofstetter, Erica Kludt-Painter, and Dr. Selina Burt were guests on KFSK’s monthly radio show, PMC Live, Nov. 4. You can hear the entire 40 minute episode here.

Because of the recent outbreak, the Petersburg Borough assembly will be meeting Nov. 5 virtually at 4 p.m. for a special meeting to consider an emergency ordinance requiring face coverings in indoor public settings. It includes some exceptions for medical reasons and for children under age three. The issue has been brought forth by Vice Mayor Jeigh Stanton Gregor. Here is the link to join the virtual meeting.