Sparta graduation 2020, Mike Parson and Michaela House

Sparta High School graduate Michaela House (center) receives her diploma from her grandfather, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (left), May 21, 2020.

The city of Nixa became the first Christian County municipality to extend recovery orders to June 15, following an announcement on statewide orders from Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on May 28.

Just after 1 p.m. May 29, Nixa Mayor Brian Steele announced that what is documented as the “Nixa Strong Recovery Plan” will extend out to June 15, keeping guidelines active that have been in place since May 4.

One change will be made in Nixa. The maximum recommended attendance for a public event climbs from 20 people to 50 people.

“The governor’s order does not mandate a limit on attendance of public events, and neither does a mayor’s order,” a statement from Nixa City Hall reads.

Just after 10 p.m. May 29, the city of Ozark announced a similar order from Mayor Rick Gardner, which was signed and attested at 2:23 p.m., according to City Hall records. 

In Ozark, gatherings of more than 50 people are discouraged.

“Large gatherings of individuals increase the risk of exposure and transmission of COVID-19 and pose a health risk to our community,” part of the Ozark order reads.

Parson announced that the state’s current public health guidelines for social distancing and occupancy limitations would stay in effect until June 15, under the Show Me Strong Recovery Plan.

“We are very pleased at how well Phase 1 has gone so far,” Parson said. “We continue to be encouraged by data across the state. With that said, today I’m extending the Phase 1 order through Monday, June 15.”

The extension lines up with a state of emergency declared for the entire state since March 2020. It also aligns with executive orders that the governor has issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were 12,794 documented cases of COVID-19 in Missouri from March 7-May 29. In the 24 hours leading up to the governor’s announcement of a plan extension, cases increased by eight tenths of a percent. In the past week, there has been a 7.8 percent increase in the total amount of documented cases. Metro areas such as Kansas City and St. Louis remain the hardest hit in terms of total case volumes.

“Some communities across the state are further along than others when it comes to reopening and economic recovery. Extending the order will give these communities more time to prepare and align with us at the state level as we continue working towards Phase 2.”

Parson said that the COVID-19 spread prevention measures are driven by four key components: testing, PPE, hospital capacity and COVID-19 data.

“How many people are in the hospitals? How many people are in the ICU? How many people are on ventilators? Those are the key as we move forward to have all that information that’s out there,” Parson said. “Our hospitals, as of today, are well-prepared for any upscale that we might have with the coronavirus.”

As long as hospital capacity is low, the governor is optimistic that Missourians who contract COVID-19 will be able to get help, but he continues watching the data closely.

“As long as social distancing and other necessary health and safety measures as implemented, businesses can still be open. Events such as weddings, graduations, county fairs, summer schools and camps can still take place,” Parson said.

The governor attended a graduation ceremony May 21 in Christian County at Sparta High School. He was the commencement speaker, but more importantly, the governor and First Lady Teresa Parson presented a diploma to their granddaughter, Sparta graduate Michaela House.

At the graduation ceremony, students and families sat spaced apart from one another. Less than 500 people attended an event that would regularly fill the 2,200 seats in the Sparta High School gymnasium. Parson used the event as an example to be followed.

“The bottom line is that we must continue to social distance, use common sense and make responsible decisions to protect ourselves and others,” Parson said. “As long as we do this, we will continue the progress we have made with our recovery plan.” 

Expanded testing plan

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services announced plans to conduct drive-through testing at sites across the state that will be free and open to the public.

Selection for community sampling is based on locations with the ability to draw participants from a broader region, as well as locations that have expressed a need for additional testing resources. It is not based on the number of COVID-19 cases in these counties. CARES Act funding will be used for community sampling.

The community-based testing will be operated by the Department of Health and Senior Services and Missouri National Guard. The nearest free testing clinic will happen June 4-5 at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds in Springfield.

The state health department continues with what’s being called the “box-in strategy,” for outbreaks. Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams believes the state will reach its goal of conducting 7,500 tests per day. 

“We have worked hard to determine how to best utilize the testing capacity we now have in our state in order to protect the health of Missourians,” Williams said. 

Once Missouri’s overall testing numbers have increased, the state will reevaluate and determine next steps. 

“I cannot emphasize enough how important testing is to our overall recovery plan. All four pillars of our recovery plan are important, but testing will be the key,” Parson said. “The more testing we do, the more knowledge we have on what the situation in Missouri actually looks like, and the better-equipped we are to move forward.”

With more testing, more COVID-19 cases are likely to surface.

“As we continue to increase testing across the state, we must be prepared for more positive cases, but this does not mean that there has been a surge or that we are overwhelmed in our hospitals,” Parson said.

Regional monitoring continues

Governments in Ozark, Nixa and Christian County continue to work closely with their counterparts in neighboring Springfield and Greene County. That’s because it’s estimated that about 80 percent of the more than 85,000 people who live in Christian County commute into the larger city for work on a daily basis.

Springfield reported an influx of COVID-19 cases on May 29, which Springfield-Greene County Health Department Director Clay Goddard explained at a briefing.

“In the past 24 hours, we have had 20 new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in Greene County residents. That is a number that we don’t like to see, we don’t want to see that number,” Goddard said.

However, Goddard said there is an upside to the new cases that have been identified in southwest Missouri.

“We do believe that this influx of cases represents a second wave of illness in our community. I won’t downplay that, but these cases have been identified early and they’ve been contained in their course of illness early, as well,” Goddard said.

According to the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, 138 persons went through testing in Springfield in a single day on May 27, which was a record high volume of tests.

“When you test more, you’re naturally going to find more cases,” Goddard said.

Goddard continues to recommend the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test as the main method of searching for active COVID-19 infections. The PCR is performed with a nasal swab.

Antibody testing is done with a blood draw, and detects whether or not a person has had some form of a coronavirus. The problem, Goddard said, is that antibody testing does not single out the novel coronavirus. That’s why the Springfield-Greene County Health Department is not conducting antibody tests until better testing procedures are developed.

“We’re not doing antibody testing at this time. There are still too many problems with that testing, and until I have great confidence in that testing, I won’t be doing any of that,” Goddard said. “Now, that doesn’t a provider from doing that.”

Goddard reiterated that people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath and a fever above 100.4 degrees should isolate themselves, stay home, and contact their primary care provider.

“If you’re sick, you stay home. Really, that’s going to be one of the fundamental prevention practices that we have to engage in,” Goddard said.

COVID-19 testing terms

Explanations taken from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

A PCR test looks for the viral RNA in the nose, throat, or other areas in the respiratory tract to determine if there is an active infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. A positive PCR test means that the person has an active COVID-19 infection.

A Serology test looks for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in the blood to determine if there has been an infection in the past. Antibodies are formed by the body to fight off infections. A positive antibody test means that the person was infected with COVID-19 in the past or recently, and that their immune system developed antibodies to try to fight it off.

Test encounters: The number of tests conducted. An individual patient may have multiple test encounters.

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