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COVID-19 surges in southwest Missouri

Health care leaders call for preventative measures, vaccinations


The Christian County Health Department stopped issuing reports on the spread and impact of COVID-19, but data on the disease is still available.

Data from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services was last updated on Jan. 5, and contained day-to-day breakdowns up to Jan. 3. The data shows that Christian County had 297 cases of COVID-19 documented and confirmed through the use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, plus another 144 probable cases documented through antigen testing over the seven-day span from Dec. 28-Jan. 3.

Antigen tests are commonly called "rapid tests," and can be administered at clinics and pharmacies, or purchased and taken over the counter. PCR tests generally require 24-72 hours to process. As of Jan. 5, there have been 11,946 cases of COVID-19 in Christian County residents confirmed through PCR testing, and another 3,461 cases documented with antigen testing.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services did not document any new COVID deaths among Christian County residents from Dec. 28-Jan. 3. To date, there have been 176 Christian County residents who died with COVID cases confirmed through PCR tests, plus another 37 deaths where COVID is a probable cause.

A total of 1,602 Christian County residents took PCR tests over the seven-day period, for a positivity rate of 18.5 percent.

An estimated 3.3 million Missourians are fully vaccinated as of Jan. 7. About 39,988 of those persons are Christian County residents, reflecting 45.1 percent of Christian County's population.

Southwest Missouri hospital data is not specifically tailored to Christian County, and the Christian County Health Department stopped sharing the exact number of residents hospitalized with COVID-19 at the end of December 2021.

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services data for the southwest region of Missouri showed that there were 406 COVID-hospitalized patients, and 140 of those patients required intensive care. It put ICU capacity for the region at 85 percent.

With an increase in hospitalizations, staff members of CoxHealth, Mercy Springfield and the Springfield-Greene County Health Department held a joint press conference on Jan. 5, and urged southwest Missouri residents to take steps to reduce the spread of the SARS-CoV2 virus.

"Our community knows the things that we have used to keep ourselves safe for the past two years, and we would ask that you continue to use those things again," Springfield-Greene County Health Department Director Katie Towns said.

One of those preventative measures is vaccination.

"Vaccination is not a foolproof way of never contracting COVID, but it will absolutely improve your chances of getting a less severe infection, and reducing your risk of ending up in the hospital and ultimately, death," Towns said.

CoxHealth President of Springfield Hospitals Amanda Hedgpeth related a census of patients at CoxHealth hospitals taken on Jan. 3.

"Out of 105 patients, none of them had been boosted, and only 6 of those 105 that were with us and had COVID pneumonia had been vaccinated, so approximately 5 percent of our patients at that point had been vaccinated with doses 1 and 2, and none of them had been boosted," Hedgpeth said.

Towns, Hedgpeth and Mercy Springfield President Craig McCoy reiterated the COVID-19 spread prevention measures that should be familiar to everyone by now: avoid large gatherings, use face coverings in public places and poorly-ventilated areas, practice good hand hygiene and use hand sanitizers, keep a distance of at least 6 feet from a non-household member when in public, and if you develop symptoms of COVID-19, stay home.

"We always encourage testing, but we have to be able to keep up with that demand, as well," Hedgpeth said.

"A mask is better than no mask, and so we're going to ask people to use masks," Towns said.

At Mercy, anyone who comes into the hospital is required to use, at minimum, a surgical mask. Such masks are being provided to visitors and patients who enter the hospital wearing cloth masks, or no masks at all.

McCoy said that the greatest challenge Mercy faces is having enough staff--nurses, technicians and respiratory therapists--to care for patients. While it's easy to get bogged down in looking at the number of beds, ventilators and medical supplies available at a hospital, staff members are the people who care for patients. A limit on staffing is the main reason McCoy said it's important to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and take steps to limit transmission of the disease.

"Staffing is the biggest capacity limitation. Initially, you had the PPE issues, you had other issues that came out. PPE is in great supply now, so that's not an issue. It's staffing," McCoy said. "Less severity is great. The ideal is not tying up a hospital bed. That's where we would continue to encourage people, 'Do what you can to prevent it.' The best way to do that is get vaccinated."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best time to get tested is 5-7 days after potential exposure to COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status. Symptomatic individuals should seek testing immediately and isolate from other persons while awaiting results.

Appointments are required for COVID-19 testing at the Springfield-Greene County Health Department and can be made online at http://health.springfieldmo.gov/testing. Appointments can also be made by calling our COVID-19 Call Center at (417) 874-1211 during regular business hours. Individuals who book an appointment will receive a test at the Health Department Vaccination Clinic, located at 1425 East Battlefield Road, a former Toys R Us store. The tests are administered via a throat swab, and results will be made available within 24-72 hours.


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