Rt.live COVID-19 data for Missouri as of Aug. 23, 2020

R-naught value measures the rate at which a disease, in this case COVID-19, spreads. The chart from http://rt.live shows how the R-naught value for COVID-19 in Missouri has fluctuated since March 2020.

I try to go to bed early on Sunday nights. I have to wake up very early on Monday mornings in order to do this job as the editor of your hometown newspaper, and if I’m not well-rested, I’m simply less effective at my job.

I was about half asleep when I heard the boom. My dog sprang from his bed and ran to the living room. He hates fireworks and loud noises, and was scared.

All told, I probably lost about an hour of sleep because someone in my neighborhood decided to light off a firework on Sunday night. I don’t know exactly what type it was, because I wasn’t outside to see it, but it sounded like something of the artillery shell variety. Why they decided to light off a single shell at around 10 p.m. on a Sunday night in August, I haven’t a clue.

I did not call the police to report the illegal activity, even though the firework did disturb me and my ability to enjoy a night of rest in my own house here in Ozark. I know how Ozark’s fireworks ordinance in written, and that the chances of the mysterious pyrotechnician being found and warned to knock it off were miniscule. They were simply enjoying their life and their liberty by shooting fireworks, even though it infringed on my sleep. In the end, calling the police was not worth the time or the effort.

The concepts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have been debated at length in meeting rooms in Ozark, Nixa and throughout our nation as we as a society grapple to determine exactly what we should do about the COVID-19 pandemic.

I know a man who is 86 years old. He lives by himself. He still raises livestock and grows a garden. He still drives, often to his local farm supply store, where he can stay current on all of the latest happenings around town by taking part in the latest gossip from other aging farmers. He also has the COVID-19 virus.

No one is sure how he got it, but he is likely one of thousands of Americans who contracted the virus through “community exposure,” a technical way to say he didn’t get it from a close relative in his own house, but by inhaling someone else’s respiratory droplets while he was in a public space. 

Should he have been at the farm supply store during a pandemic? I don’t know. He does buy things from that store. Should he have stayed home and had someone else do his shopping and gossiping for him? Probably. Should his right to move freely through his community be given up because he knew the risks and it’s not up to other people to try to protect him and his way of living? That’s really the crux of the debate.

Medical experts agree that “social distancing,” the mega buzzword that means we all agree to keep some personal space between one another in public places, is the No. 1 defense against the spread of COVID-19. Staying at home, or at least at a distance, has been proven to reduce the spread of the virus. If you examine the R-naught value, or the rate at which an infectious disease spreads, from March 2020 to today, you can clearly see that distancing reduces the virus’ ability to spread.

The R-naught value for Missouri has fallen to 1.0 as of Aug. 14. That’s really good, actually. That means that every person who tests positive for COVID-19, as documented through PCR testing, spreads the disease to an average of 1.0 additional persons. Infectious disease experts, like Dr. Robin Trotman of CoxHealth, want to see the R-naught value drop below 1.0, because that means the pandemic is slowing.

Missouri hasn’t had an R-naught below 1.0 since May 14, which was about the time that stay-at-home orders were being allowed to expire. Distancing works, and the math doesn’t lie.

If the R-naught value can drop below 1.0 and stay there, it’s my belief that we will hear less and less about all of the actions we should be taking to stop the spread of COVID-19. We won’t see the events we look forward to all year get canceled. We won’t look sideways at the person next to us in the produce section of the grocery store. We won’t yell about liberty, fear and totalitarianism in city council meetings. Life will get better and our community will heal.

I don’t really enjoy covering COVID-19 from a basis of pure numbers, but the numbers contain some of the most concrete information we can use to demonstrate exactly how and how much the novel coronavirus is impacting Christian County.

There are names behind the numbers, but people don’t like thinking about the 86-year-old fella, or the 69-year-old grandmother, or the 35-year-old nurse that they know getting sick and facing serious complications from a respiratory disease. It’s easier to talk about this stuff when it doesn’t have someone’s name attached, but that’s not how diseases work.

No one likes being told what to do. That’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing to encourage you that the people of Christian County, in spite of an increasing volume of COVID-19 positive residents, know some actions that we can take to slow the spread of COVID-19 to a level that the disease becomes manageable for our region’s hospitals and our county health department. Along the way, we might just help someone we know. 

We might lose a little bit of sleep, but at least we gave our best efforts to take care of ourselves and appreciate each other.

—Rance Burger

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