At the recent community update meeting with county and municipal leaders, vaccines were on everyone's mind.
At each monthly Zoom meeting, attendees and community members submit questions that Callaway Chamber of Commerce marketing and events coordinator Justis Smith shares with the gathered officials — frequent attendees include presiding commissioner Gary Jungermann and Fulton mayor Lowe Cannell, as well as representatives from other county communities.
The questions reflect the concerns of the moment. This month, many focused on vaccinations.
"It's a good question that I don't have a lot of good answers for — I'm going to be brutally honest," Jungermann said.
Jungermann explained the county is relying on the state for access to vaccines and information. Over the past couple of weeks, the Callaway County Health Department worked to vaccinate health care workers at Callaway Community Hospital and Fulton Medical Clinic. It only received 100 doses.
"We have been after the state trying to figure out when we're going to get more vaccines," Jungermann said.
CVS Health and Walgreens have been working with the federal government to roll out vaccines to long-term care facilities. But for the general public, it's still unclear when vaccines will be widely available.
"If we get vaccines, we'll get them out," Jungermann said.
Frequently, Jungermann spoke of a lack of communication and direction from the state and federal government.
"The problem is you can't talk to anybody that seems like they have definite answers," Jungermann said.
One question, addressed to Cannell, focused on whether the city's mask ordinance has been effective. Since Dec. 1, masks have been required in Fulton in places of public accommodation.
Cannell said it's hard to collect hard data but noted the number of active cases has gone down since the ordinance went into effect.
"I think the mask ordinance has done what it was supposed to do — getting more people to wear masks," Cannell said.
Other questions took a critical tone, focusing on dissatisfaction with the health department's pandemic communications to the public and the quality of local data available on the county-maintained CallawayCOVID19.com website. Commenters cited lags in updates, confusing charts and disparities with state data.
Someone wondered whether there have been any changes in the leadership of the health department "in light of continued frustrations."
"Everybody in the health field is extremely burnt out," Jungermann said. "Making brutal changes right now, it's not going to be good. Because I don't know anybody that wants to really, truly step in there and take this thing and run with it, especially not being able to do things much better with the state."
Again, Jungermann noted the challenges of the task and said the county has struggled to acquire accurate data from the state — state figures have included duplicates and positive cases from outside the county.
"It's just a massive undertaking for local health departments," Jungermann said. "It's a good plan with the state to work with the health departments, but we need help, especially with these vaccines and different things. It's been an ongoing huge task. We've learned a lot. We're going to have to make some huge adjustments moving into the future."
The conversation turned to social media and the proliferation of misinformation and posts that paint the area in a negative light — mental health, crime and drug abuse were all mentioned, in addition to pandemic communications.
"We've learned a lot from this pandemic and we have got to get better and ready to be more prepared to alert the community on what's going on and how we do that," Jungermann said. "I'll be the first to say, and I think the city (Fulton) will agree with this, we've learned a lot, and we know now that we need to change some things and do things different in the future."
After voicing her concerns and advocating for a more systematic, cohesive approach to online communication, 1canoe2 owner Beth Snyder offered her advice as a business owner who deals with marketing and social media.
"The message that gets sent out will be spread around, and it can be so influential," she said.
Jungermann suggested members of the public reach out and call local officials if they have questions about anything they see online.
Cannell and Jungermann noted the importance of working together to get through the pandemic when asked what their main messages to the community are.
"Ultimately what I want to tell everybody in Callaway County is keep doing what you're doing," Jungermann said. "Try to do the best you can to keep from spreading this thing."