CDC COVID-19 illustration

A RENDERING created by the Centers for Disease Control shows the ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The Christian County Health Department confirmed three new cases of COVID-19 present in Ozark and in Sparta late on the night of May 28, and extended a warning of potential exposures to the public.

The three new cases are all lab-confirmed.

The health department warns that one of the newly-documented COVID-19 patients visited the Kum & Go convenience store at 305 West South Street in Ozark each day at about 3 p.m. for a five-day span of May 23-27. They also shopped at the Dollar General on East State Highway 14 in Ozark and at the corner of Highway 14 and Vanilla Bean Road in Sparta between 1 and 1:30 p.m. on May 23.

Anyone who was in these stores at the times of the exposures is considered low-risk for COVID-19, according to the health department. However, persons who may have been exposed should watch themselves for symptoms such as a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, sore throat, headache, cough, muscle pain, chills, loss of taste or smell and shortness of breath.

Dr. Karen Peak now has about a month’s worth of experience as the chief administrator of the Christian County Health Department. However, with 27 years of experience as a nurse, she is no stranger to public health, having worked in public health for about 19 years. She became the Christian County Health Department administrator in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Christian County has 23 confirmed cases of COVID-19, plus three probable cases. The difference in classification by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and by local health departments comes from the different testing methods used.

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing remains the focus for the Christian County Health Department when it comes to identifying and tracking COVID-19 cases.

“Those could be either individuals who were symptomatic and they were not tested, but they were in contact to an individual that tested positive, or some of those are individuals who have been receiving what’s called an antibody test,” Peak said.

At this point, Peak said that the health department does not recommend antibody testing, because the results are not conclusive enough to specifically identify COVID-19.

“It’s not picking up just COVID-19 specifically. It will pick up any type of coronavirus that the individual has come in contact with at some point previously. That could be a common cold, it could be a person that tested positive for SARS in the past, whenever that went through, or it could be COVID-19,” Peak said.

An improved antibody test won’t likely be available until at least the fall of 2020.

If you are experiencing some symptoms of the novel coronavirus, Peak recommends you seek out one of the free virtual visits available through Mercy and CoxHealth, so that the health professionals conducting those visits can evaluate your symptoms and make a recommendation for additional care.

Free testing clinic

On June 4-5, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the Missouri National Guard will run a free PCR testing clinic from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. both days at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds in Springfield.

“The only requirement there is to have Missouri residency,” Peak said. “It is important that we have as many citizens from Christian County try to attend that free testing event as possible, because that’s going to help us get a better understanding of our COVID-19 prevalence in our area, and it will also help us better prepare for overall COVID-19 response and recovery plan in our area, as well.”

The PCR test is performed with a nasal swab.

“It goes into your nose, very deep,” Peak said. “It’s not a comfortable procedure to do, but it’s a necessary procedure.”

You can find out about the free testing clinic at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds by visiting http://health.mo.gov/communitytest. The clinic, Peak said, will be conducted in a drive-through format. It coincides with other testing clinics being spun up across Missouri.

“What that will do is take you to a site that will ask you which location you’re going to be tested at,” Peak said. “You would just choose that you want to do the one at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds in Greene County, June 4 or 5.”

If you don’t have access to the internet, you may also set up a time to come to the free testing clinic by calling the Missouri COVID-19 hotline at (877) 435 8411.

If a COVID-19-positive person is identified in Christian County, the health department will be able to obtain information on that patient and begin investigating potential contacts with other persons that the patient may have made while contagious.

For the moment, the free clinic is the best option for Christian County residents who want to be tested for COVID-19. During a virtual meeting of the Ozark Chamber of Commerce held May 28, Peak asked any Christian County residents with the means to attend the free testing to do so.

“We are encouraging everybody whether they have symptoms or not to go to this clinic, if at all possible,” Peak said. “This will provide us an opportunity to see how many individuals in our community are asymptomatic and may have spread it to others.”

Funding for localized testing

On May 7, the Christian County Commission voted to form a committee to decide what will happen with $10.3 million allotted to Christian County through Gov. Mike Parson’s office. The funding originally came from federal monies allocated to Missouri through the congressional CARES Act.

Peak hopes she can convince that committee to allocate funding for a health department-driven testing program.

“I am working toward trying to get some sort of testing resources for our residents in Christian County that is a little closer to home than Greene County,” Peak said.

Christian County’s special CARES Act committee will consist of Phillips, Christian County Auditor Amy Dent, Director of Planning and Development Todd Wiesehan, Highway Administrator Miranda Beadles, Director of Human Resources Amber Bryant, Director of Emergency Management Phil Amtower and Christian County Sheriff Brad Cole as an alternate. Cole will likely be pressed into action in the committee’s early days, as Amtower is presently on medical leave, according to Phillips.

The first step for the committee will be to write guidelines for submitting proposals, and then get those directions to eligible recipients of CARES Act funding.

The state of Missouri received a total of $2.3 billion in federal funding through the CARES Act. At $10.3 million, Christian County received the ninth highest dollar amount of Missouri’s 114 counties.

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