Local COVID case numbers dropping, but officials still on guard

Local COVID case numbers dropping, but officials still on guard
Dave Faries

Officials at the Audrain County Health Department are cautiously optimistic following the most recent release of COVID-19 data. Case numbers are trending down and there hasn’t been a pandemic-related death in the county since Sept. 20. However, the emphasis is on caution rather than optimism.

“I hope we can continue this,” said ACHD nurse Katie Swaim. “But we’re taking it one day at a time.”

While there are still just over 140 active cases countywide, 123 of these are inmates at the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia. That means there are fewer than 20 known active cases in the community, according to health department reports. The Mexico School District recorded less than 10 cases over the past two weeks. Van-Far reports similar numbers and Community is faring even better, with no new cases over the past 14 days.

“We’re still doing education,” Swaim pointed out, adding that when cases do arise the department pursues contact tracing. This allows anyone who has encountered an infected person to monitor the situation and quarantine if necessary. “I would hope people are being cautious,” Swaim added.

There have been 762 reported cases in Audrain County since the start of the pandemic. Five cases resulted in death. Yet 55 percent of positive tests were recorded at WERDCC and Tri-County Care Center in Vandalia. Similar figures have been seen nationwide, where sizable percentages of cases center around extended living centers or detention facilities.

“It’s a place where COVID can spread,” Swaim observed, noting the 123 prison cases. “As those people recover, our numbers will continue to go down.”

County data compares to statewide reports. Despite some COVID-19 hotspots, new cases across the state have been trending down, dropping from 2,004 new infections on Sept. 28 to 439 on Oct. 4. Pandemic-related deaths are falling, as well. Missouri had just four deaths on Oct. 4 compared to 52 over the previous six days.

Yet Swaim and her colleagues around the state continue to temper the optimism with a note of caution. Testing in Missouri plummeted dramatically over a recent seven-day span, from 23,642 to 4,785, which may account for the decline in new cases. A majority of those infected remain asymptomatic or with slight effects and are never reported. And the ACHD is beginning to grapple with the onset of flu season and dosing out the current vaccine.

They understand the coronavirus can surge. Cases in Audrain County spiked three different times since April, peaking on May 21, Aug. 31 and Sept. 11.

“I personally can’t predict it,” Swaim said.


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