By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
TARKIO - Missouri's northwesternmost county continues to be a statewide leader in the battle against COVID-19.
Atchison County has administered over 2,600 doses of vaccine in a county that's home to just over 5,200 people. In all, over 31% of the county's population has been vaccinated.
That vaccination rate ranks second among Missouri's 117 counties and municipalities, trailing only Joplin, which has vaccinated 31.4% of its 50,000 residents.
Atchison County Health Department Administrator Julie Livengood says team work, and a little luck, helped the county get off to a quicker start than some of its neighbors.
"We took some proactive steps early on," she said. "As soon as we could sign up to be a COVID vaccinator, we did. There were many health departments and hospitals that were awaiting vaccinator approval even in January. We were giving out vaccines in December already. I think we just got a good head start before everybody else."
Atchison County's vaccination rate remains well ahead of others in Region H, such as Buchanan (14.3 percent), DeKalb (16 percent) and Platte counties (15.8 percent).
The Region H team and Missouri National Guard never had a mass vaccine clinic in Atchison County, though Livengood says many residents went to clinics earlier this year in Mound City and Savannah to get vaccinated.
There were a couple of smaller-scale, independently run clinics in Tarkio, where more than 200 people got vaccinated each time. Another clinic is planned for April 12 at the Tarkio Activity Center, as all Missouri adults will be eligible for vaccination on April 9.
Atchison County's COVID numbers have stayed relatively low with 439 total cases and 13 fatalities reported since the start of the pandemic. There are only five active cases in the county and nobody is hospitalized locally with virus complications.
All of this was done without any county-wide mask mandate, and no city-wide mandates in towns like Rock Port or Tarkio.
"I felt like the county did a great job of taking care of each other," Livengood said. "People were wearing masks. You don't see it as much now, but when we were in the height of the pandemic, people were wearing their masks and listening to our recommendations. So, we didn't feel like we had to put out a mandate for it."
However, many local health departments continue to monitor the spread of a new COVID variant called B.1.1.7. which has been found in all 50 states, including in Shawnee County, Kansas.
Livengood says Atchison County's positivity rate has ticked up slightly to 12.5 percent in recent days with four new cases reported last week and three more reported on Monday.
Livengood says the decline in testing is the main reason for the positivity rate going up, with only 30 or so tests being performed last week.
Still, with the overall rate of new cases and deaths down significantly both locally and statewide, and with more and more Missourians becoming eligible for the vaccine, Livengood is encouraged by the current trends, but still urges caution going forward.
"We're cautiously optimistic and we're very encouraged that things are looking better," she said. "But, you know, we still want to be a little bit cautious for awhile."
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