Sep 03, 2020 6:00 PM

MWSU professor helps condense COVID-19 data into form council can digest

Posted Sep 03, 2020 6:00 PM

By BRENT MARTIN

St. Joseph Post

St. Joseph city council members face a huge task each week:  trying to digest all the information on the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s important, because the data is used by the council to decide city coronavirus policy.

Missouri Western State University chemistry professor, Gary Clapp, helps the council interpret the massive amount of data gathered on COVID-19, which he agrees could seem like trying to drink water from a fire hose.

“Or, the bottom of a waterfall,” Clapp tells St. Joseph Post with a chuckle.

Clapp approached Mayor Bill McMurray early on, offering his expertise to consolidate all that information into an easier to understand report he forwards to them before every Thursday afternoon work session on the coronavirus.

“We had that communication and they started sharing the data with me and then I started sending them back three or four graphs that I thought were pertinent, that they could easily see and that they could make decisions; is this slope going up or is this slope going down?,” Class says. “And, they seemed to like it.”

St. Joseph council members will not be meeting in a work session this afternoon. There is a regular council meeting scheduled for Tuesday. On the agenda is a bill sponsored by Mayor McMurray to adopt COVID-19 pandemic regulations. The city of St. Joseph requires masks in retail stores of at least 10,000 square feet. Council members have been mulling over the possibility of expanding that requirement.

Clapp says the COVID-19 trend had seemed to flatten out and then trend down. Until lately. Now, the number of new coronavirus cases in Buchanan County have been on the rise.

New cases began to rise on August 24th, a Monday, when St. Joseph health officials reported 19 new cases. It would be the beginning of a tough week. On Tuesday, the 25th, 24 new cases were reported, then 20 on the 26th, 25 on the 27th, and 21 on Friday, the 28th. New cases fell to 14 on Saturday, then bumped up to 20 on Sunday, falling to 14 on Monday. Cases began to rise again Tuesday with 24 new cases reported. On Wednesday, Buchanan County reported 32 new cases of COVID-19.

Clapp crunches all the data and reports from various authorities and distills the information into a more comprehensible form for the council to consider at its work sessions.

“So, I would plot the average for every day of the past 14 days and then I would do what is called a linear regression on it and then that would draw us a line,” Clapp says. “So, if the line is sloping up, meaning that we’re having an average increase of cases per day, that’s bad and the CDC says when your moving average is a positive number, it’s going higher, then you need to be concerned about the growth in cases.”

Interesting facts emerge in the data. The largest number of cases in Buchanan County are among those in their 20s. More men than women have contracted the disease. Buchanan County reports more than 775 men have tested positive for COVID-19 while around 675 women have tested positive.

Clapp, though, points out COVID-19 is extremely dangerous for one particular segment of our society.

“COVID is not alive. It needs a host. That’s how a virus lives and this virus is really nasty to people who can’t fight it off,” according to Clapp. “And s0, while some of us who are very young don’t seem to fight it off there may be some underlying conditions we don’t fully understand, but for the most part when we look at the numbers, we know that the most people it kills are 80-plus (years of age),”

In total, Buchanan County has had 1,459 cases of COVID-19 since counting began; 1,215 confirmed and 244 probable. The county has recorded 12 coronavirus-related deaths.