By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
While most counties in northwest Missouri are seeing their COVID-19 case rates drop, a couple of them are seeing their highest surges since the pandemic started.
Livingston County reported 103 new cases last week and 36 more since Monday. Livingston County's rate of 381 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week is the highest of any county in the state.
Linn County, Livingston's neighbor to the east, has seen 96 new cases in the last seven days. Linn County's rate of 218 new cases per 100,000 people in the last week is the second highest statewide.
"We had 133 active cases here in Livingston as of Tuesday," said Ann Burchett, the public information supervisor for the Livingston County Health Center. "Our high was previously 94 back in January."
Livingston County saw only 12 new cases of COVID-19 in April, and only 10 new cases in the first 11 days of May.
They've now seen 157 new cases between May 12-May 25 - an increase of 986 percent.
Burchett says the overall positive tone of COVID coverage from a statewide and national level is not reflective of what's happening in her county.
"Everything looks better, things are great, Missouri's rates are some of the lowest in the country," Burchett said. "But, that just doesn't ring true for north central Missouri right now."
Livingston County's positivity rate ranks No. 1 in the state at 21.35 percent. Linn County is right behind them at 20.93 percent.
Burchett says the cause of this recent outbreak is unclear. The Health Center has sent some testing samples to labs to see if a variant is circulating through the area.
The U.K. variant, sometimes referred to as B.1.1.7., has been confirmed in Missouri, and studies show it to be far more contagious and more likely to impact younger people than the original virus.
About 33.3 percent of the Livingston County population has initiated vaccination, and 29 percent have completed it.
While these rates are about middle-of-the-pack compared to the other counties in the state, Burchett says many of the new cases have been detected in younger groups - a population that hasn't been vaccinated as much.
"When you couple a lower vaccination rate, not wearing masks and getting back to normal, it's a perfect storm for things like this to happen," Burchett said. "Once you have a few cases, which is what we saw, they just compound themselves."
Burchett says immunity against any disease can only work if enough of the population gets vaccinated. When there's an outbreak amongst people who are not immunized, cases can pile up quickly and can even impact those who are vaccinated.
As of May 24, Livingston County identified 12 breakthrough COVID cases in fully vaccinated people.
"And pretty soon, if you get enough cases going, then you have breakthrough infections in vaccinated people," Burchett said. "Because, you don't have your herd immunity protection anymore and those people even who are vaccinated can get sick."
The recent surge in Livingston County caused the Chillicothe School District to move to virtual learning for summer school classes through June 4.
Livingston's neighbor to the north, Grundy County, is watching the situation closely. While its rate isn't as high as Livingston's, Grundy County has reported 16 new cases since May 18.
At 11.88 percent, Grundy County's positivity rate is the fifth highest in the state. Its rate of 122 new cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days is the third highest.
Grundy County has seen 25.6 percent of its population initiate vaccination - well behind the statewide rate of 43.3 percent.
Grundy County Health Administrator Elizabeth Gibson is hopeful that the easy access to the vaccine will encourage those who haven't yet to roll up their sleeves.
"We'd like to see our vaccination rates improve in Grundy County," Gibson said. "We hope now that it's readily available. And it's pretty easy to get. We have a weekly vaccination clinic at our health department (in Trenton). It's also available at local pharmacies. We also have all three types of the vaccine available in the county."
Life has returned to normal for many. Nationwide cases and deaths are down. In Missouri alone, there's been an 8.1 percent drop in new cases and a 33 percent drop in deaths in the last week, while the state's positivity rate hovers just under four percent.
While there's reason for optimism, Burchett says the situation in Livingston County is a shining example of what could happen if not enough people get vaccinated and don't take proper precautions.
"It's too early to celebrate the end of the pandemic," Burchett said. "You can look at our county and see the danger is all too real and it's really not that far away from anyone in the state."
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