Jun 14, 2021 8:27 PM

Tri-County Health Department eyeing recent COVID spike in Worth County

Posted Jun 14, 2021 8:27 PM

By TOMMY REZAC

St. Joseph Post

A recent COVID-19 spike in Worth County has Tri-County Health officials trying to figure out the cause of this increase.

Worth County has reported 15 active cases from June 11-14 and currently ranks second in the state in cases per 100,000 people. Its 32 percent positivity rate also ranks second statewide.

Tri-County Health Emergency Planner Rachel Brown helps with contact tracing in Worth, Gentry and DeKalb counties. She says the Crossroads-First Assembly of God Church in Grant City has been identified as a place of likely COVID exposure.

"Late last week, we started to see a sharp increase of cases within Worth County, which is a pretty small county to begin with," Brown said. "It was a very sharp increase with a lot of testing happening. Once we started investigating each case and connecting the dots, that's when we realized that there may have been a larger exposure."

Those who attended service at the Crossroads-First Assembly Church in Grant City on June 6 and then a bible study there on June 9 are being asked to quarantine for 10 days.

In addition, Mercer, Grundy and Tri-County health officials have been notified of positive cases found in those who attended the Ashes to Beauty Conference in Roach, MO on June 4-6.

Officials are working to identify, isolate and quarantine those who might have been exposed.

With several variants confirmed in nearby Livingston County, Brown says they're awaiting their own test results to see if a variant is circulating in the Tri-County area as well.

"We're awaiting testing," she said. "So, we sent some samples off to the state lab to be tested and we're waiting for that to come back. There is no real way of telling until we get that confirmation to tell what we're dealing with."

Three different variants, including the U.K. and Indian variants, have been confirmed in Livingston County. While cases have started to slowly come down there, Livingston County has seen 65 new cases of COVID in the last week alone and 134 in the month of June.

There are currently 73 active cases in Livingston County. The Missouri Department of Health has confirmed that over 80 percent of new cases there are being driven by the highly contagious U.K. variant.

"We've been watching it very closely," Brown said. "We don't know if there's any correlation between (Worth and Livingston County's spikes). It's still too early to tell. Even though we're all few and far between since we're rural communities, there's still that possibility of spread across county lines."

This comes as vaccination rates remain low in parts of northwest Missouri. The daily average of doses administered in Missouri has dropped from about 60,000 or more in mid-April to just 10,000 or so doses per day through the first half of June.

Livingston County has seen nearly 30.9 percent of its population complete vaccination. Gentry County's rate stands at 30.3, Worth's is 28.5 and DeKalb's vaccination completion rate is especially low at 18.7 percent.

Buchanan County is in a similar spot. They have reported 96 new cases in the last seven days and only 18.5 percent of its population has completed vaccination. In addition, Mosaic Life Care reports 11 COVID patients in its St. Joseph hospital - its highest total in weeks.

Brown hopes that perhaps these local outbreaks and new surges might encourage more people in the Tri-County area and beyond to get the COVID vaccine.

"Do we hope that this kind of spurs some enthusiasm to get vaccinated? Yes," she said. "That's always our hope. Is it unfortunate? Yes, because we'd hope that people would go out and get vaccinated before this happens again, but we're not sure if we're going to see an increase in vaccination rates or not."

Fortunately, new deaths and hospitalizations in the Tri-County area have remained at or near zero for the last couple of months. However, Livingston County reported three new deaths last week and Hedrick Medical Center last reported four COVID patients.

Brown says the return to normalcy and relaxing of restrictions could be part of why the vaccination rates have slowed, and could be a cause for these recent upticks.

"But, I don't know if that's the only reason or if it goes back to just there are some people who just truly will not get it or who are just very, very resistant to getting the vaccine."

That said, Brown says the key to slowing these current spikes and preventing variants from spreading further is getting vaccinated.

Despite a handful of mild breakthrough cases in vaccinated patients, all three types of vaccine being used in the U.S. have proven effective against the variants by lessening symptoms and reducing hospitalization and death.

"Get vaccinated," Brown said. "If you can, if you're able. Get out there and get vaccinated and stay home if you're sick."

You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.