Health department briefing May 19, 2020

SPRINGFIELD GREENE COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT DIRECTOR CLAY GODDARD (right) speaks alongside an American Sign Language interpreter at a briefing held May 19, at the Springfield-Greene County Public Safety Center.

While many Christian County residents have worked at their jobs in Springfield throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, or have returned to work in May, a new crop of coronavirus patients led Springfield’s leading health official to warn against unnecessary travel.

Springfield-Greene County Health Department director Clay Goddard reported eight new documented cases of COVID-19 diagnosed among Greene County residents over a period from Friday, May 15, to Tuesday, May 19.

“This isn’t entirely surprising, though certainly not a trend that we were hoping for. When we began reopening the community, we knew we hadn’t eliminated COVID-19. We knew that it was still circulating, and we knew that other communities were seeing an increase in cases,” Goddard said.

Christian County, with its two active cases among the 22 total residents diagnosed with COVID-19, has been on a downslope since around May 7. 

Economic development data shows that at least 75 percent of the population of Ozark and Nixa commutes into Greene County for work on a typical work day.

Goddard said that six new cases in Greene County were linked to domestic travel, but not related to any flights. Instead, these were mainly persons who traveled from southwest Missouri to another area by car, likely contracted the novel coronavirus, and returned to Greene County.

Goddard said he expects more confirmed diagnoses of COVID-19 to result from these trips, both from persons who traveled with the COVID-19-positive persons, and from persons who came into contact with COVID-19-positive persons.

“We can’t say this enough, while we are relaxing restrictions here, COVID-19 is not over. We must still vigilant, we must still be cautious, and travel is not advised right now,” Goddard said. “Our community has been working hard to suppress this disease here. Going elsewhere and brining it back undermines those community efforts.”

“Travel” in this case refers largely to cases in which persons visited friends and relatives in other places. There is a difference, when it comes to COVID-19 spread prevention, between spending a weekend at a secluded cabin or condo on a Missouri lake, and traveling into a city and mingling with people there on a prolonged basis.

“I know that people want to get together. We want to see our family and be together again, but you have to be your own advocate in those scenarios,” Goddard said. “You need to walk in with a game plan. You need to know how to keep yourself safe and remain healthy.”

Greene County, Christian County, Ozark and Nixa are all under states of emergency declared by their respective commissions and mayors until May 31. Those state of emergency orders limit the sizes of social gatherings (no more than 20 persons in Ozark, Nixa and Christian County, and no more than 25 persons in Springfield), and also encourage everyone to take viral spread precautions and maintain social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Public health restrictions, guidelines and warnings are based off of three key factors: the local hospitals’ ability to provide care without providing care on a basis of “emergency status,” the ability to test for COVID-19 and the ability to implement spread prevention tactics.

“The difference between now and early March is we have the capacity to deal with these cases,” Goddard said.

The new phase of responses to COVID-19, Goddard said, requires everyone who lives and works in Greene County to exercise personal responsibility for themselves and for persons around them.

“Each of us owns how this will play out moving forward. Each of us has to be thinking of the good of ourselves, our families and our communities,” Goddard said.

That means adjusting to how things are done, Goddard said.

If you do travel, whether its essential or not, health officials warn you to use tools from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make sure you aren’t traveling into a COVID-19 “hot spot,” where cases are more prevalent and your likelihood of exposure is heightened.

He reiterated the precautions that have been explained publicly many times by many different health leaders: if you feel sick, stay home. Wash your hands frequently, using soap and warm water. If you can’t wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer. Maintain at least 6 feet of distance from others who are not part of your own household.

“Remember what this disease needs, it needs healthy people interacting with sick people,” Goddard said. 

As of May 19, Greene County reports 107 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and seven confirmed deaths. It also reports 14 probable cases and on probable death. The “probable” status cases happened to persons who underwent antibody testing for coronaviruses and who exhibited symptoms of COVID-19.

“At this time, we don’t know that the antibodies provide protection or prevention of COVID-19,” Goddard said. “The truth is that we just don’t know what this means yet.”

A total of 19 cases in Greene County are considered “active” at this time.

Christian County last had a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 on May 7.

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