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Six months on from the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Moniteau County, new positive cases continue to add toward a cumulative total of 400 since March.

Thus, the work continues for public health officials to become more efficient in tracking cases and train more staff than back when the pandemic first began affecting the county.

Moniteau County Health Center administrator Andrea Kincaid and Darrell Hendrickson, environmental specialist with the Health Center, have led the way since March in disseminating information about the spread of COVID-19 in the county and the public health measures that can help to combat it. More recently, the duo and the staff of the Health Center have spent hours on contact tracing close contacts to the handful of recent positive cases at California schools.

"It's an interesting time for our staff," Hendrickson said last week. "I really want to thank them, the ones that came in and worked over the weekend (on Sept. 19-20). They didn't get out of here until 9 p.m. Sunday night, but they got almost everybody called, or left messages if they didn't talk to them personally. But they worked all weekend long. I know people are tired of hearing about COVID, but we've been battling this since March. Nobody's any more exhausted by this stuff than we are."

The regular business of the Health Center hasn't stopped simply because there's more work to do, either. Hendrickson said a new nurse hire has been a godsend, but the Health Center is still busy with its usual work, from back-to-school sports physicals to facilitating WIC and shoe collection programs.

The result is a drive toward more efficiency in the Health Center's coronavirus-related duties. Hendrickson said the county's contact tracing process is being refined every day — the Health Center now takes a more front-end approach when informed directly by an individual that they have gotten tested and received a positive result, rather than waiting to make any moves for quarantining close contacts until confirmation of a positive test via the state's test reporting tool.

"That time saving we think will help us on the front end to identify close contacts and maybe not have so many contacts that we do have to quarantine," Hendrickson said. "We're trying to scrunch it down by intervening as quickly as we possibly can."

The work starts even before contact tracing, with educating people about why the Department of Health and Senior Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strategies they've been recommending for months — like social distancing, wearing face masks and thorough hand-washing — work.

"(The recommendations we're making) are based on science — we're not pulling this out of the air," Kincaid said. "It's proven mitigation strategies that do work."

Hendrickson said in the world of public health, there's an "aha" moment when those they are trying to educate reach a point of understanding about the "why" of the matter. Though with the overarching numbers the Health Center maintains indicating a lower rate of hospitalizations and deaths, despite the steady rate of positive cases being added to the tally, he said he wonders if there is a measure of complacency among some who may think there is less need to adhere to such recommendations.

Nevertheless, there is a cause and effect associated with COVID-19 beyond simply catching the virus and recovering from it, the pair said.

"Plus we don't know the lasting effects," Kincaid said. "There are people comparing it to the flu, but we don't know what kind of damage to the lungs (COVID-19 can cause). It's concerning that you have loss of taste and smell, that's involving a nerve in your brain. You know, what's going on? I think there's so much unknown, you don't know about the long-term effects of the disease."

With this in mind, Kincaid said it's imperative, as we enter the fall season, that community members prioritize getting flu vaccines, to prevent co-morbidities with COVID-19.

With community events continuing now and since summer providing opportunities for further community spread, Hendrickson said it remains key the Health Center continues to improve its methods of educating the community. He called it an "uphill battle," not just for Moniteau County but for other nearby health departments, too.

"This is going to be a battle that's going to go on for a while," Hendrickson said. "I don't see an end in sight, unfortunately. We're just going to continue doing the things we think are going to educate, inform and, hopefully, strengthen our public health measures in the county so we can get this tamped down."

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