Last week the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased by more than 10% in Pettis County. As with most of Missouri, which is now considered a “hot spot” for the increase of the virus by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pettis County continues to see an increase in cases on a regular basis. 

Tuesday, Missouri’s death toll from the virus surpassed 1,000 residents. The total number of cases reported statewide is now 21,551. Pettis County saw an increase of three cases reported Wednesday. There are now 23 active cases in Pettis County. 

Johnson County, which neighbors Pettis County to the west, implemented a face covering mandate. The order goes into effect at midnight Monday, July 6 and continues for 21 days ending at midnight July 28. According to the Johnson County Community Health Services, the order requires individuals to wear a face mask covering in any indoor public location including but not limited to retail stores, grocery stores, offices, places of worship and restaurants and bars. 

Face masks are also required in outdoor public gathering locations when social distancing can not be followed. 

Johnson County health officials state the need for face masks is based on the percentage of individuals who are unaware they have COVID-19. Data released shows that as of June 30, Johnson County experienced a 32.8% increase in confirmed cases of the virus over a 10-day period.   

Since March and the beginning of the pandemic, the transmission pattern for COVID-19 has changed with cases reported in a variety of areas of the county, according to Pettis County Health Administrator JoAnn Martin.

“We are seeing a different transmission pattern than the pattern we saw during April and early May,” Martin told the Democrat via email Tuesday. “We had seen a decrease in cases prior to the re-opening, but that trend has changed.”

One reason for that change may be that there is still discussion by many about the wearing of masks, according to Martin.

“Masks are not a political statement — they are a public health strategy to reduce the spread of disease,” Martin said. “Mask wearing allows us the freedom to be closer to each other and participate more fully in community activities. 

“The Health Center has received a number of positive cases who were out and about in the community even though they did have symptoms, but did not think it was COVID-19,” she explained. “Without a mask, according to recent statistics, each of those people infected at least one other person. With a mask, the risk would have been much lower.”

Martin noted if everyone is wearing a mask in a business and there is a positive case, the risk is considered low. That means people can continue to work if asymptomatic and always wearing a mask. If no one is wearing a mask, the risk is considered high and everyone who has been within 6 feet of the positive case will be placed in quarantine and not be able to work.

Monday evening Martin spoke at the Sedalia School District 200 Board of Education meeting at the request of Superintendent Steve Triplett. Martin answered questions from board members and community members.

Martin was asked what is one of the biggest challenges school districts will face when students return to school. Her response was the need to keep children and staff who are ill at home.    

“We want to break the chain of transmission by keeping ill people at home,” Martin explained via email to the Democrat Tuesday. “That is the first step. 

“The second way to stop the chain is to not have a person be exposed which is where masks and social distancing comes to play,” she continued. “The third part of transmission is to break a way the virus can spread which is why all the cleaning is important.”  

Martin provided terminology used in discussing COVID-19 and the chain of transmission.    

• Disease agent: coronavirus.

• Reservoir: where the virus stays waiting to be transmitted. At this time we believe people are the reservoir.

• Mode of escape: the way the virus leaves the reservoir (person). For the coronavirus it is through coughing, talking, sneezing, singing, yelling — all ways that project minute particles of moisture that spread the virus particles. Wearing a mask reduces the mode of escape by not allowing the virus particles to be moved out into the environment.

• Mode of transmission: most of the time the virus is spread by person to person contact where the virus particles are shared. There is also the possibility of transmission from inanimate objects, called fomites, where the virus can land and wait for a way to move to a vulnerable person. This is why cleaning becomes important to reduce transmission as well as hand washing/sanitizing.

• Mode of entry: where the virus enters the body of another person. The places where the virus can enter the body are eyes, nose and mouth. This is support for the message to not touch your face, mouth or rub your eyes.

• Susceptible host: the person who is not sick. Traditionally, immunizations or medications are provided to decrease the susceptibility of a person to the disease. For the coronavirus, there is no immunization or medication, so there are non-pharmaceutical interventions to protect susceptible hosts — staying home if you are ill, avoiding crowds, wearing a mask, social distancing, limiting the number of people in a particular place, staying home when you don't need to leave home.

As schools, organizations and businesses continue to develop plans for reopening, it becomes more difficult as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise.

“Our long-term care and senior living facilities are trying to open to visitors,” Martin noted. “This becomes more difficult when cases are increasing in the community and there is a greater risk the disease will be brought to residents.

“Everyone wants to be able to visit loved ones — the separation has been too long, but the risk is great for the most vulnerable if visitation opens too early,” Martin continued. “In public health, we talk about non-pharmaceutical interventions to fight a pandemic.”

Martin commented those interventions like wearing a mask and social distancing are all that are available to individuals at this time. 

“Using these strategies, our children will be able to return to school in a safer environment, we will be able to go about our community and visit with friends and families and we will be able to worship together rather than just online,” Martin said. “If we don't use these strategies we face seeing more increases and more risk to everyone.” 

Education Reporter

Hope Lecchi is the education reporter for the Democrat, covering all things education in Sedalia and Pettis County, as well as providing general assignment and feature coverage. She can be reached at 660-530-0144.

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