Taney County Health Department Director Lisa Marshall went before the Taney County Commission on Dec. 28 to give an update regarding the health department and COVID-19.
“Most of what we’re doing at the health department continues to be COVID,” said Marshall. “Just to start with the numbers, I’m pulling these from the state website, to date we’ve had 3,692 cases, so that starts back at the end of March to current (Dec. 28, 2020). The state has us at 51 deaths, we currently have 46 on our website so we are kind of in a constant state of reconciling that with the state health departments. They get the death certificates before we do, so we’re constantly reconciling that to make sure we’re up to date. We also verify that with our coroner’s office. So we go through a little bit of an extensive process to make sure we get those verified.”
Marshall then went on to highlight the numbers for the week leading up to Dec. 28 and a spike in numbers that was seen after the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Over the last seven days we have seen 86 cases. For us that is actually a decrease,” said Marshall. “We had a pretty good peak there around Dec. 1, which was about five days after Thanksgiving so that’s not terribly surprising. I think we had about 85-89 new cases on Dec. 1, and since that time we’ve steadily declined, which is great news.”
Due to the health department’s recommendations regarding indoor gatherings around the holidays being often ignored, Marshall said the health department has been gearing up for numbers to jump back up and to see “an ebbing and flowing of cases throughout the winter.”
Although Taney County’s numbers went down as the month of December progressed, the county is still sitting on a 19.8 percent positivity rate.
“That is a decrease at this point in time,” said Marshall. “At one point we were up to about 33 percent (positivity rate). Again we’ve seen that decline over the month of December. We’re anticipating another spike, then we’ll see how the vaccinations play into that. That’s just kind of our numbers where we’re sitting in the moment.”
Marshall then went on to discuss new quarantining procedures the health department has adopted, including the modified quarantine guidance for schools regarding in-school exposures.
On Nov. 12 Governor Mike Parson released an updated quarantine guidance highlighting that at school, if a person diagnosed with COVID-19 and a person exposed to the positive case both are properly wearing masks, then the person exposed does not need to quarantine. The person exposed would then monitor for symptoms and stay home at the first sign of symptoms. The person who initially tested positive would still be required to quarantine at home.
The health department then issued a press release on Nov. 23 saying only schools that have a face covering requirement in place are eligible for the modified quarantines for their students and staff. During the modified quarantine, students and staff that have been exposed may only leave their home to go to school and may not attend extracurricular activities.
Marshall then went on to discuss the CDC’s updated quarantine guidance for the general public.
“We’ve also seen the CDC has updated their quarantine guidance, they have now said that, of course, the science has not changed, so for people that can quarantine for 14 days to do so, but for those who cannot that a 10-day quarantine is acceptable,” said Marshall. “So our board did adopt that a couple weeks ago, so we’ve started going with the 10-day quarantine and, of course, there was also a seven-day test-out option that the CDC recommended, but our board did not adopt that piece because of our local cases. So once we get to a better level of our cases and we can maintain that for seven days, then we will review that and see where we’re sitting at that point in time.”
The Taney County Health Department has also adopted new technology to help with those who are quarantining receive their letter of release and the department’s inability to call every person that is in quarantine.
“A couple of new technology pieces that we’ve taken on, basically (we can’t make) phone calls to every single person, we simply were getting too many to keep up with and we’re not able to reach everybody in a timely fashion,” said Marshall. “We now have the text notifications, so if an individual tests positive, they do get a text asking them to fill out a quick survey and that helps us determine the level of follow-up they’ll need from us and then get them in line also for a release.
“Then also we were running into folks who were basically doing the right thing and putting themselves in quarantine because they’ve been exposed but in the course of our investigation their name was not given to us so we didn’t know they were in quarantine and they were having some difficulty getting (a letter for release). So, we now have a self-reporting link on our website so for individuals that have been in quarantine or been exposed they can report to us that they have been exposed, that they are going to be in quarantine and they’ll be sent a letter of documentation so that they can take that back to their employer or to school. Those are really the struggles, kind of the pain points we were seeing. We weren’t able to reach everybody, but basically if we didn’t know they had quarantined we wouldn’t know to get them a letter. This gives them an avenue to get that letter of release. We had several people use it, it’s been pretty successful.”
Marshall then ended her presentation with an update on the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I’m going to jump into the vaccine. Just kind of let you know where we’re sitting at the moment.” said Marshall. “The state health department has a good website called mostopscovid.com and we are basically sharing that ad on all of our social media platforms because it answers a lot of those frequently asked questions and it’s a good resource just to let everybody know what vaccines are available.
“Currently that website has a great site for people that just have basic questions about what it is, the safety, the effectiveness, the priority groups and it also has a good site for the vaccinators. Of course it is all public facing, so anyone can access the entire website, and it’s basically a really good resource to let everybody know what’s going on. It is updated very frequently so anytime new information becomes available it’s available on that website.”
Vaccine distribution, according to Marshall and the state health department, will become available in four different phases. The first phase, which is currently being administered, is Phase 1A, which includes long-term care facility residents and staff as well as patient-facing healthcare workers. Phase 1B includes high risk individuals (18-64), individuals over 65, first responders and essential workers. Phase 2 includes populations at increased risk including prisoners and homeless. Finally, Phase 3 includes all Missouri residents.
“As a state, we’ll be working through these priority groups together. We’ve been told that it won’t be a county-by-county (process), it will be as a state,” said Marshall. “We basically have the 1A, the 1B, then we have two and three. What we have been told is an effort of this magnitude has never been undertaken and so in combination with the sheer volume of people that will want the vaccine and what is produced at the moment, we are unsure of how long it will take to get through each of these priority groups.”
Marshall then highlighted how, although the health department does not currently have any vaccines, they are preparing for the day they do get to aid in the distribution. She said they are gearing up for the general public to hopefully get the vaccine by late spring.
“We have been told for the county to gear up for just general public vaccinations late spring. It’s the time line we have been told to gear up for just based upon the estimate of how long it will take to get through the 1A and 1B,” said Marshall. “At this moment we are planning very heavily. Most of our staff’s time, if they’re not working cases, is basically put into the planning process. It is basically too heavy to lift for any one organization to do all on their own and so we are partnering very heavily with our local task force that includes our first responders, our healthcare partners, most of our jurisdictions are involved, we’ve got emergency management there as well. So basically, as a county, we’re working to plan this vaccination effort together.”
In regards to the COVID-19 vaccine, CoxHealth made the following post on their Facebook page on Dec. 19 regarding when the vaccine will be available to the general public:
“Some have asked when people throughout our communities will be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The answer: We wish we knew.
“We are eagerly anticipating the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine throughout the region. Since this is a state and federal program, however, our knowledge is limited on the plan at this time.
“Like many others, we are looking forward to learning more about the time line and structure of how these vaccinations will be given. We are hoping the state will reveal the plan, as we are anxiously waiting to play a role to help our patients and community.”