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As COVID-19 continues to spread, Moniteau County health officials encourage the public to exercise common sense practices to help curb new instances of the virus across the state.

Missouri has eight confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Tuesday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies the virus as a novel (or new) respiratory disease first detected in China, which has now spread to more than 100 locations internationally, including the United States. COVID-19 has seen an uptick in spread across the nation in the last week, with Gov. Mike Parson declaring a state of emergency in Missouri last Friday, the same day as the proclamation of a national emergency from the White House.

Though spread has yet to find a confirmed foothold immediately near Moniteau County as of early this week, Moniteau County Health Department officials said it is important the general public takes the pandemic seriously.

"This is a good time to exercise common sense," Moniteau County environmental specialist Darrell Hendrickson said. "Hand washing, (social) distancing, stay home if you're sick. Just stay with the basics."

Hendrickson said just like everyone else, health officials are getting new information constantly, making the situation a fluid one. Things will change, and more information will be forthcoming, he said.

Hendrickson said it's a situation which people should be concerned about but shouldn't panic.

"We're really just trying to minimize the effect this has on the number of people that will be effected — I could use the term 'flatten the curve,'" Hendrickson said. "We want to help it to get so it's not such a steep progression, and we don't want to overload our health systems and hospitals."

The CDC released guidance early this week pertaining to avoiding mass gatherings of 50 or more people, which county health officials like Moniteau County Health Center administrator Andrea Kincaid echo as important for area organizations to consider.

"I just want (groups) to make an informed decision, if they want to postpone something, or close an event," Kincaid said. "I just want them to know this is what the recommendation is, and they can make an informed decision."

Symptoms of the virus include, namely, fever, cough and shortness of breath — these symptoms may appear within two to fourteen days of exposure. Kincaid said seasonal influenza, which lately has been mischaracterized as being as severe as COVID-19, carries with it some additional symptoms that differentiate the two, such as body aches and sore throat.

"This is not like (the) seasonal flu," Kincaid said.

Kincaid said older adults and people with pre-existing medical conditions, like heart and lung disease or diabetes, seem to be at risk for developing more serious complications. Of individuals who are exposed to the virus, 80 percent only display mild symptoms, Kincaid said, while the other 20 percent display more severe symptoms or even require hospitalization.

Missourians should expect to see a spike in confirmed cases this week as a result of expanded testing across the state, but Kincaid said it's hard tell how many actual cases of coronavirus exist across the state due to the amount that have actually been confirmed via testing. The Moniteau County Health Center doesn't currently have the capability for testing, Kincaid said, but that could change down the road.

In fact, it could change at any time, Michelle Wilfong, Moniteau County Health Center communicable disease program coordinator, said. The landscape surrounding the approach to COVID-19 has shown things can change very quickly overnight, Wilfong said.

For now, the Health Center does have a process for helping people to find an avenue for testing if the need does arise.

"If we have a provider that thinks someone would need to be tested, we have a criteria that we would consult with the (DHSS) on to determine if they meet the criteria to get tested through our state public health lab," Kincaid said. "If the provider doesn't feel it's within their capacity or protocol to test them there, we would pre-arrange to go to the local hospital to be tested."

One thing county health officials stressed is the importance of paying attention to credible sources for information about coronavirus. Along with the CDC and Missouri's Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), Wilfong said the World Health Organization is another source that can be trusted for accurate information about the virus. The information disseminated by the Moniteau County Health Center also falls into this bucket, as it works to keep people informed at the local level.

Ultimately, county health officials said it falls on the individual to check their sources diligently to avoid spreading misinformation.

The DHSS has a 24-hour hotline that individuals can call with any questions related to COVID-19. The hotline can be reached at 877-435-8411. More information about COVID-19 can be found at the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

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