COVID cases on the rise; County Health explores ways to promote vaccinations

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 11/17/21

HERMANN — Whether a result of trick-or-treating or having more than one hunter in a deer stand, the cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in Gasconade County.

That was the report Monday morning …

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COVID cases on the rise; County Health explores ways to promote vaccinations

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HERMANN — Whether a result of trick-or-treating or having more than one hunter in a deer stand, the cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in Gasconade County.

That was the report Monday morning from Administrator Greg Lara to the members of the Health Department’s Board of Trustees. The panel met in regular session a week earlier than usual because of scheduling issues.

Lara said the arrival of colder weather also is playing a role in bumping up the number of coronavirus cases. “The case counts have been increasing with the colder weather,” he said.

However, health agency officials are grateful that the colder weather is not being accompanied by a substantial number of influenza cases — a concern of healthcare professionals voiced as summer months gave way to autumn.

“So far, our (flu) numbers are like last year,” Lara said. “So far, they’re really low,” he added.

“Maybe we caught a break with influenza,” noted Board President Stan Hall.

During the board meeting conducted via Zoom, Lara said the so-far light flu season could be a result of the efforts being taken to avoid the coronavirus — including the vaccinations that have been given, the wearing of masks and other steps.

For public health agencies battling the coronavirus pandemic, last year’s flu season came and went with little fanfare. The number of confirmed influenza cases in the region was unusually low. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has yet to issue a formal projection for this year’s flu season, Lara said.

Regarding the state of COVID in Gasconade County, Lara, who is scheduled to retire as agency administrator at the end of December, said the positivity rate has jumped in recent weeks to about 20 percent with cases reaching 422 per 100,000 population. That compares to recent assessments of 80 to 100 cases per 100,000 population. There are a total of 2,287 cases of the virus since the pandemic first began. In the past two weeks, 117 cases have been confirmed, he said.

“It’s jumped up significantly,” Lara told the five trustees. “It’s pretty much statewide,” he said.

“We are also seeing some cases in the long-term care facilities,” he added.

With newly hired Administrator Kenna Fricke alongside during the board session, Lara noted that 43.1 percent of the county’s eligible population has been fully vaccinated with 46.1 of the population having received the first of two shots.

The discouraging part of the vaccination program, Lara explained to the Gasconade County Republican prior to the meeting, is in the inoculation of school-age children. In this group, the rate remains stalled at about 20 percent of those eligible for the vaccine.

“We’re looking at different ways to promote the vaccine,” he said.

The public health agency also is recording some breakthrough cases — fully vaccinated residents who are diagnosed with the virus. “We’re seeing some breakthrough cases, 117, but they’re not going to the hospitals,” he said.

As for vaccines for younger children, Gasconade County is part of a consortium of mid-Missouri counties working to inoculate the youth. Gasconade County is working with Audrain and Montgomery counties in ordering pediatric vaccine. Orders are filled with 1,400 doses at a time, too much for any individual county. The counties are dividing up the 1,400 doses, which can be difficult for some counties to handle.

“You have to have special freezers for that,” Lara said.

Fricke told the board that Gasconade County is prepared to begin administering the vaccine to the youngsters. “We’re going to have between 70 to 80 doses right now,” she said, which means about 40 children could be vaccinated with the 2-shot vaccine. However, Fricke noted, parents of the younger children are being as cautious as parents of school-age children in terms of having their children vaccinated.

“I think, right now, there are fewer than 15 kids on our wait list,” she said.

Lara and Fricke updated the board on the agency’s efforts in working with the Gasconade County R-1 and R-2 school districts in the battle against the virus.

“We’ve talked to both schools to reach out to parents,” Fricke said, adding that the R-1 District Thursday night adopted the “Test to Stay” program aimed at keeping in school — rather than going into a 14-day quarantine –— those students who were in close contact with a classmate diagnosed with the virus. As Lara explained, that program is one option available to schools.

“We’re working with the schools on some of the different options,” Fricke said, noting that the R-2 District is reassessing Test to Stay.

“Initially, R-2 wasn’t interested,” Fricke said. “But a lot of the numbers (of new cases) we’re seeing were in the southern” portion of the county. R-2 administrators now are reconsidering the program, she said.

Gasconade County R-2 School District’s Board of Education on Monday adopted a Test to Stay program which is in effect as of Nov. 29.

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