With active coronavirus cases steadily being added to the tally in Moniteau County, public health officials have twice had to ask for the public's help in their contact tracing efforts throughout the past week.
Two possible exposures were reported in Tipton in the last week of July, the most recent of which was an individual present at a pair of Tipton R-6 School summer activity camps. An earlier possible exposure occurred at a Tipton restaurant.
Darrell Hendrickson, environmental specialist with the Moniteau County Health Department, said it's important to note the Health Center must take steps such as this due to the current volume of COVID-19 cases in the county. Hendrickson said when contact tracing efforts lead to the discovery that individuals may have been in public while infectious, public notices such as those released at the end of last month are the best way for the Health Center to inform direct contacts who were also present that it otherwise would be unable to pinpoint through its typical efforts.
"This is our position — it's better in those instances to put the word out that this person was at this place for this event during this period of time, so monitor yourself (if you were also there) to see if you develop symptoms," Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson said contact tracing relies on good faith from those who test positive for COVID-19 — the Health Center has no mechanism of knowing whether an individual was adhering to proper social distancing at any given time while in a public space, let alone who else was within proximity to them while they were there outside of those individuals they are acquainted with.
"You've got no idea who was in the cone of influence of this infected person," Hendrickson said. "Another instance is there was a public notice that went out about the Belle Fair, where they had an infected person. Same kind of thing — there's no way of knowing who was at the Belle Fair."
All of this is to say, Hendrickson said, that the Health Center doesn't name specific locations with any malicious intent, and has only done so on the so far rare occasion that it has been necessary.
The continued spread of COVID-19 in Moniteau County has been consistent over the past month, as 82 new active cases were reported throughout the month of July, compared to 37 recoveries. Eight new cases have been added since the start of August as of Monday, though the Health Center also reported 17 recoveries the same day — this brings the total amount of individuals who have recovered from the virus to more than 100.
At press time, there are 29 active cases of COVID-19 in Moniteau County. Total cases since the beginning of the pandemic number at 143. Moniteau County retains the second-highest amount of cases per capita, per 10,000 in the county's population, in a list of 13 Mid-Missouri counties.
Hendrickson compared the pandemic to going through a hurricane.
"We went through the first blast in March, then we went through a season where the eye of the hurricane came across, and now we're coming up on the back end of the hurricane. That's where we're at now in this increase in case load," Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson said while it is troubling the numbers have accelerated, it takes more analyzing than just looking at the number of new cases to understand what is going on in the community. He pointed to the rate at which recoveries are being reported alongside new active cases as one example.
Regardless of the so far positive rate of recoveries, Hendrickson said the virus is still here and continues to appear in different areas throughout the county.
"There are just a lot of cases around that are spread out throughout the whole county," Hendrickson said. "We're trying to still encourage the same drill, doing the things that are going to keep you safe."
It's especially an emphasis, Hendrickson said, due to the amount of opportunities for people to get together in larger-scale gatherings more recently — he pointed to last week's county fair in nearby Cole County and the ongoing Moniteau County Fair, which will soon be followed by schools returning from their summer break. Part of this encouragement comes courtesy of Hendrickson's involvement with the county's schools, working with them to finalize reopening plans that will ensure the health and safety of students and staff, from transportation to food service.
"We've always been behind with this virus, it seems like," Hendrickson said. "I'm trying to get ahead with the school system."