After almost a week of steady increases of about two dozen new cases per day, Boone County on Saturday recorded more than five dozen cases of COVID-19 for the first time.
The 61 new coronavirus infections reported by the Columbia-Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department is five more than the previous high of 56 reported July 11. There were 224 active infections and 512 people in quarantine for exposure to the virus.
Many counties in the region have reporting large numbers of additional cases in the past week. Some locations, like Columbia and other cities, have enacted local laws mandating face masks, but rural counties are finding they do not have that authority.
July was the worst month of the COVID-19 pandemic for Missouri, with an average of 928 cases per day, a string of 11 days with more than 1,000 cases to end the month.
The state Health and Human Services Department on Saturday reported the smallest number of new cases in 12 days and the first day since July 20 with fewer than 1,000 new coronavirus infections.
The week ended with a seven-day average of 1,507 new cases per day statewide. On average, 84 of 117 local health department jurisdictions reported at least one new case each day.
The Randolph County Health Department on Wednesday issued a proclamation strongly encouraging mask usage by residents.
While not mandating face masks in public settings, the proclamation has the support of the Moberly Area Chamber of Commerce as a reinforcement to mask policies in community businesses.
The department’s board of trustees decided to issue the mask proclamation at its Tuesday meeting, Health Administrator Sharon Whisenand wrote in an email.
"They wanted to issue a statement that showed their support of wearing masks in the community and to recommend the steps that we can do to help slow the spread of [COVID-19]," she wrote.
Randolph County as of Friday had 54 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 26 active. Three residents are hospitalized and one person has died of COVID-19.
In Cooper County, COVID-19 cases continue to trend upward but the Cooper County Public Health Center isn’t pushing for an order requiring face masks in public in part because of the difficulty enforcing it.
"If we try to do or even the county commission for that matter, tries to do an order of temporary masks, there is no way to enforce it because it is a civil legal issue," health Administrator Melanie Hutton said. "It’s not a criminal issue. There is no enforcement by law enforcement, so the only legal method of enforcement is filling an injunction against the person refusing the mask."
Cooper County had 103 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Friday with 23 active cases and 74 recovered. The county tallied 32 new cases in the week ending Friday.
Infection numbers will not come down any time soon, Hutton said.
The Randolph County proclamation on masks "strongly recommends all individuals wear face coverings over their mouth and nose in any indoor or outdoor environment where social distancing of six feet or more cannot be maintained."
There are some exceptions, such as for those with medical conditions or disabilities that prevent wearing a face covering, children younger than 2 years old or when it is not feasible to wear a face covering, such as when eating, among others.
More national and local businesses are starting to request or require mask usage in stores, which has led to more residents using masks, Whisenand wrote.
The Moberly Area Chamber of Commerce already was offering signage to businesses requesting or requiring face coverings before the proclamation was issued, chamber Executive Director Megan Schmitt said.
While the chamber and businesses had not requested the proclamation, it does help local businesses reinforce their face covering policies, Schmitt said.
"We are just trying to assist businesses through this process if they are considering [mask covering requests] by giving them materials that are easy to print," she said.
The health department is working through ways in which to recognize businesses with face mask policies.
Whisenand hopes that as businesses continue to institute policies it will encourage more people to wear masks.
"We all have to work together to help decrease the spread," she wrote. "Wearing a mask is just one of the tools."
While it will not seek to put an order in place, the Cooper County Health Center is encouraging mask use.
It will be at least until Christmas, if not later, before vaccines are available enough that are freely out there to immunize people," Hutton said.
If numbers continue to significantly increase it could prevent schools from reopening or force them to close, she added.
More than half of the new cases for the county during July were reported in the Boonville Correctional Center and one in a nursing home, which means that in the county at large, there were 43 cases, or about 1.5 cases per day in July.
Congregate living is a factor in the case number increase, Hutton said. The term applies to college dorms, homeless shelters, nursing homes or assisted living facilities.
There were internal conversations whether congregate facilities should be included in county case numbers
"The bottom line is that they are counted as residents in the census in our county," Hutton said. "They are also humans and they deserve to be counted, so we opted to list it under congregate living facilities. That caused part of that spike."
Rudi Keller of the Columbia Daily Tribune contributed to this report.