Health Director talks COVID-19 spike in young people, long-term care cases

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The Springfield-Greene County Health Director says a recent spike in cases among young people is not coming from college campuses, or even from their employers, but from the time spent in between.

Director Clay Goddard shared an update on COVID-19 with members of the Springfield City Council on Tuesday, September 1, 2020. Goddard addressed several topics; including long-term care and why reporting certain data is a challenge. He spent most of his time, however, talking about a spike in cases among people aged 18-22, and even spoke directly to that age group.

COVID-19 cases in young people

58% of new cases over the past week are people in the 18-22 age range. On Friday, Aug. 28, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department recorded another record day of cases, with 203 new COVID-19 cases.

Goddard said these numbers are concerning, but not entirely unexpected.

He said he wants young people to know they control their own destiny, saying, “These students are doing the right thing at school, they’re doing the right things at work, but it’s the time in between that we seem to find a devil may care attitude.”

Goddard also reminded young people of the ripple effect that comes with a positive case, urging them to consider family members, coworkers, and employers when deciding whether to attend parties other large gatherings.

He says these risky behaviors are seen mostly in people younger than 30, recalling feeling “bulletproof” when he himself was young.

Goddard said not all cases in young people are from college students, but “a good amount” of them are. Missouri State University confirms 413 cases in the last 7 days. Ozarks Technical Community College confirms 18 cases of the virus across all campuses so far this week.

Director Goddard said the Health Department is still not seeing a big rise in positive cases in elementary or secondary schools. He told Springfield City Council members he knows university presidents want to keep campuses open, and applauded their efforts to enforce masking requirements and reduce density in classes. Health Department officials are working with university leaders to provide resources, trace contacts, and identify clusters of illness.

Long-term care facilities

Director Goddard briefly discussed long-term care facilities. About an hour after giving an update to council members, the Health Department announced five COVID-19 deaths in Greene County. Four of those are associated with long-term care.

Goddard shared a change he thinks may help reduce case transmission in nursing homes. Last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services mandated twice-a-week testing for long-term care employees in areas where the COVID-19 positivity rate is at 10%. Goddard said the positivity rate in Greene County is about 10%.

Goddard believes this will make a difference, “Because we know those cases are being imported in with unknowing staff. So that should help in those settings significantly.”

He mentions improvement in cases at the Greene County Jail, stating case growth is, “not as significant as it was in late July and through the middle of August.”

Testing and data

Goddard said Health Department officials are working on a more efficient way to share the positivity rate of COVID-19 with the public. The positivity rate is determined by dividing the number of positive tests by the number of total COVID-19 tests given.

The state’s reporting system makes this challenging, according to Goddard. Health Departments must report positive tests within 24 hours, but negative aren’t often reported that quickly by the state. This means it may take up to two weeks to get an accurate rate, while waiting for those negative cases to come in. Both the Springfield-Greene County Health Department and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services keep track of positive cases on dashboards updated daily.

Goddard also responded to a question about saliva tests for COVID-19. While it’s too early to make an announcement, Goddard said the Health Department is working on this, and, “As more concrete details come in, I think you’ll have some good news in that arena.”

Masking compliance in local bars

Director Goddard responded to a question about bars and nightclubs by reminding council members Springfield Police officers are checking local bars to make sure they are complying with masking and social distancing requirements.

Goddard said businesses are following guidelines limiting occupancy to 50%, however, when people have a drink in their hands, obviously, the masks come off. Goddard said it would be a leap to tie any outbreak to bars or clubs right now.

Goddard ended his briefing at the City Council meeting by saying, “Let’s keep smiling and we’ll get through this together.”

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