Large-scale testing continues for the time being in Audrain County for COVID-19.
Testing efforts may need to scale back, however, as sites need to conserve resources for a predicted second wave of COVID-19 in the fall and so antibody testing in recovered patients can take place.
More than 2,000 people have tested for COVID-19 in Audrain County as of Thursday. That testing has found 122 total cases of the virus, with 31 active, according to an Audrain County Health Department news release. There has been only one death associated with the virus in Audrain County despite the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services previously reporting there are two.
Even if a person has recovered from COVID-19, that does not mean they cannot be reinfected, health Administrator Sandra Hewlett said. There is a lack of clinical evidence right now from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said during a weekly teleconference with city and county leaders, business organizations, school districts and nonprofit agencies.
"The level of immunity and the duration of immunity are not even established yet. Ongoing studies will reveal data on these two issues," she said.
Patients who have recovered will be offered serological testing, which looks for COVID-19 antibodies, two to six weeks after their recovery. Antibodies are part of the body’s immune system that recognizes and fights off viruses and harmful bacteria. If antibodies are present, those patients could donate their antibody-rich plasma for COVID-19 treatments.
"We want to offer this to all of our COVID-positive patients who have antibodies because they truly have the ability to save a life," Hewlett said.
She also provided an update on testing and from where the department traced cases.
Businesses have kept COVID-19 at bay by taking employee temperatures, Hewlett said. There were seven cases that could have spread further if businesses did not have temperature protocols. A couple cases were tied to lack of glove use while counting money from churches, while 18 cases overall were tied to a church. There were 40 cases from two hog farms operated by Brenneman Pork. Another 15 cases were connected to one family, while about eight to 10 are tied to a couple restaurants. The rest are from community spread where people do not know how they were exposed.
"There is one common denominator — lack of social distancing and handwashing. So we are going back to the basics here," Hewlett said. "We may have COVID with us into the fall where it is expected to rise again."
Arthur Center Community Health has coordinated with the health department to provide free testing without doctor’s orders over the past two weeks. It conducted more than 1,182 of the tests since May 29. SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital — continues to operate its drive-thru test site. A doctor’s order is needed, however. The number seeking a test has decreased recently due to Arthur Center test efforts.
Test volumes also have decreased at the mobile test sites set up by the Arthur Center as well. They were averaging more than 100, but only saw about 25 people June 7.
The Arthur Center plans to slow or temporarily cease mobile testing due to associated costs. While residents can be tested for free, each test kit costs the center around $100. The center does not want to deplete its funding so it is ready for the fall and any serological testing it conducts.
Since Audrain County residents have sought out a test either through St. Mary’s Hospital, the Arthur Center Mobile test sites or those in Boone County, the county has exceeded the state’s community-wide testing goal, Hewlett said. The health department will manage results from a mass testing operation starting Monday at the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia by the state’s health department.
A COVID-19 vaccine likely will not be available until January, Hewlett said. In the mean time, she encouraged residents to receive a seasonal flu vaccine to allow for more accurate diagnosing in the fall.
"All children will receive free flu vaccines this year," she said. "We use insurance where we can and if they are not insured they will get it anyway through the vaccine for children program."
The health department will work with school districts to schedule vaccination events this fall. The department also is working to secure funding for flu shot vaccinations for those 18 and older.
Other community updates:
Community R-VI School District is working on its reopening plans for students in the fall. A task force was formed that will focus on health needs and instructional needs.
Missouri Military Academy is reviewing its spring COVID-19 protocols to modify them for the fall.
St. Brendan Catholic School held its graduation June 5 and staff are working on fall student and staff safety plans.
SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital — Audrain continues to increase hospital services. Furloughed employees are returning to address increasing patient and service volumes. Visitors still are limited to one per patient. The hospital is waiting for COVID-19 activity to decrease in the county before allowing more visitors.
Missouri Veterans Home tested 238 residents and employees all with negative results.
Audrain County Developmental Disability Services worked with the Arthur Center Thursday to conduct testing of its staff and residents. While it was not required, staff were highly encouraged to be tested.
Central Missouri Community Action and Williams Family Support Center already has partially opened its head start program. The number of students is limited due to classroom dimensions, temperatures are taken before students enter the building and they are dropped off at the door by parents.
Mexico Area Family YMCA started its day camp Monday at Mexico Middle School in the old gymnasium since there is more space to allow for social distance requirements. Participants have their temperature taken before entering the building and parents are staying in their vehicles.
All Mexico-Audrain County Library District branches are open. Visitors sign a log. Staff are having temperatures taken and are wearing masks and gloves. Every other computer is available in the computer labs. Returns are sanitized and quarantined for at least 24 hours before returned to the collection. Branches are no longer open on weekends or into the evening and are closing one-half hour prior to posted closing times so staff have time to clean and sanitize surfaces.
Mexico Area Chamber of Commerce will reopen its office to public access next week. Outside meetings will start in July. Businesses that need surgical masks or hand sanitizer should contact the chamber. Chamber events will start back up in August.
The county’s Emergency Operations Center continues to have weekly meetings. The county’s emergency management agency still has a supply of masks and decontamination bags. The agency is looking to replenish supplies as the supply chain is opening up again.
The Audrain County Commission will roll out phase one of funding support next week to county agencies and governments with the coronavirus relief bill funding it received.
All of the The Mexico Ledger’s coronavirus coverage is being provided free to our readers. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to The Mexico Ledger at https://www.mexicoledger.com/subscribenow. Help keep local businesses afloat at supportlocal.usatoday.com.