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Though Moniteau County's active COVID-19 case count has dropped from its recent high of 61 earlier this month, Moniteau County Health Center Administrator Andrea Kincaid said Friday there is still more work to be done to stop the spread of the virus locally.

The county's case count began ticking back up around the Fourth of July holiday, Kincaid said, following a relatively quiet period in new case additions from February to the end of June. There are still 42 active cases as of press time Tuesday, and new cases have been added to the tally on a daily basis during the past month on the Health Center's COVID-19 dashboard, save for the weekend dates during which the dashboard isn't updated. The county's total case count since March of 2020 as of press time is at 2,156 and climbing.

Some of the cases added recently have been of the delta variant, Kincaid said, a highly-transmissible mutation of COVID-19 that first emerged in southern areas of the state. She said the variant is largely tracked by surveillance through sewer sheds, rather than being indicated in lab testing, but the Health Center has been made aware of its presence in the county.

Though now more than 25 percent of the county's population has completed vaccination, according to estimates from the state's vaccination dashboard data, Kincaid said the recent uptick in the immediate area likely has a lot to do with community members taking a relaxed stance toward measures that prevent the spread of COVID despite not having been vaccinated.

"I don't think people are masking," Kincaid said. "There's lots of crowds, there's gathering of people, there's low vaccination rates — that's the biggest contributing factor."

Kincaid said while an increased case count is a concern, one positive is that it has generated more interest from community members in receiving the vaccine.

The Health Center hosted a vaccine clinic at Fortuna Baptist Church last week, ultimately vaccinating 32 more individuals, though Kincaid said that group was probably evenly split between Moniteau and Morgan County residents.

"In turn, we are seeing an uptick in people wanting the vaccine," Kincaid said. "That is positive. We're not ahead of it, but we'll take it."

Kincaid said the vaccination is an effective tool in holding the virus at bay, even with a small percentage of "breakthrough cases" — when COVID develops in individuals more than two weeks after they've completed vaccination — among new cases recorded in recent months. The county's first breakthrough case was recorded May 1, she said, and about 11 percent of new cases since then have been breakthrough cases. But none have been hospitalized or suffered from severe symptoms, another major vaccine benefit.

That benefit extends to a hospital system that has quickly become overtaxed across the state as the delta variant has arrived and hit areas like Springfield.

"Lots of people have just mild symptoms and they think 'Why get vaccinated? Why should I, because a lot of people don't get very sick,'" Kincaid said. "But if you were to get sick or just need to go to the hospital for hydration or some oxygen therapy, it's taking up space. And that's what's happening with the hospitals — we see it in southern Missouri, the bed space is so limited, so if you have a cardiac issue or a car accident, they may not have room for you."

The potential for further exacerbation in Moniteau County is on the horizon, as the Moniteau County Fair starts Saturday. Kincaid said especially considering how transmissible the delta variant is, people gathering in large numbers in close proximity without wearing a mask is a "concern."

"I'm going to be honest, I don't see much mask usage in the county, and I know we're not 100 percent vaccinated," Kincaid said. "That honestly has kind of gone by the wayside."

Another area of concern is the impending start of the 2021-22 school year. According to updated DHSS guidance, "vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic." Without a vaccination, DHSS aligns with the CDC guidance recommending any individuals who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask indoors.

As of early June, Kincaid said no young residents in the 12 years and older age range had been vaccinated yet, making it increasingly likely that public health recommendations would look very much the same as they did last academic year. However, the Health Center has finally seen some success on that front. Still, there's more work to be done, she said.

"I would love to see more kids ages 12 and up vaccinated, so they can have a better school year," Kincaid said.

For now, Kincaid said the Health Center continues to focus its day-to-day efforts on encouraging vaccination through pushing factual information on its social media channels, which she said she thinks has been effective. Kincaid said the strategy aims to help those who may voice that they don't know where to turn for factual information; by the same token, she said she encourages citizens to seek out information from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with their local health departments, in order to avoid misinformation.

The Health Center continues to offer vaccinations daily at its office in California, but will also host an after-hours vaccine clinic Thursday from 4-8 p.m. The Health Center will offer the Pfizer vaccine to any patron 12 and older at no cost, and a second vaccine dose will be given to those who receive one three weeks from tomorrow. Those who are interested in learning more or scheduling an appointment can call 573-796-3412.

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