Greene County’s low COVID-19 numbers encouraging; officials know BA.2 variant is present

Published: Apr. 12, 2022 at 5:44 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - ”The COVID-19 crisis is over in the state of Missouri.” Governor Mike Parson made that pronouncement at the end of March. Data just released by the Springfield-Greene County Health Department show why a significant drop-off in cases during that time helped prompt his declaration.

In Greene County, there were 4,102 cases of COVID-19 reported in February during the Omicron surge. But by the end of March, those numbers dropped to 543, an 87 percent decrease.

There were 35 COVID-related deaths in February. In March there were two deaths, both women: one in her 60′s and another in her 70′s.

There are 18 people in Greene County hospitals, lower than any time in 2021 (the lowest that year was 22). The same is true of the current seven-day average of 14 daily cases (the lowest in 2021 was 16) and it’s significantly lower than the all-time high of 771.

Springfield-Greene County Assistant Health Director Kendra Findley says those numbers are very encouraging and positive but she’s not yet ready to say the pandemic can be declared “over”.

“I think it’s safe to say we’re at an ebb,” Findley countered. “Just as we saw an ebb in cases between Delta and Omicron, and then we had an Omicron spike. I don’t think you can say that this pandemic is completely gone.”

The latest variant, BA.2, is now the dominant spreader in the U.S. and on Monday Philadelphia became the first major city to reinstate an indoor mask mandate just a month after it had been lifted.

BA.2 also continues to show up in wastewater samples taken in the Springfield area.

“We do know that BA.2 is in the (Springfield area) population,” Findley said. “Obviously we’re not seeing a spike and that probably means we have enough immunity within the community to keep it from spreading.”

And whether you call it a pandemic or endemic, the general consensus is we’ll be dealing with an outbreak again although no one knows when.

“It does not mean there won’t be future periods of increased cases and medical surges,” said Paula Nickelson, the Acting Director of Missouri’s Dept. of Social and Senior Services, when she spoke at the governor’s news conference announcing the end of the COVID-19 “crisis”.

“It is predictably unpredictable,” Findley said. “So what we’re watching for now are hospitalization rates because our worry is that case rates are low because people aren’t getting tested.”

One number that is concerning to health officials is that almost half of the county’s residents are still not vaccinated as the percent of the Greene County population age five and older that’s fully vaccinated is at 54.5 percent and increasing at a snail’s pace if at all.

“We’ve been at that 54 percent level for quite some time,” Findley admitted. “But to be honest the vaccine is the best way we’re going to control this pandemic. Ultimately if we want to control this virus we’ve got to have more vaccinations within our population.”

Though the county is in the low category of the CDC’s risk assessment, meaning the organization’s only guidelines are to stay up-to-date on your vaccines and get tested if you have symptoms.

As for wearing a mask?

“Definitely if you’re immunocompromised,” Findley said. “But I would just tell people to protect themselves to the level that you’re comfortable. I still wear a mask when I go into crowded stores. I do it because it gives me comfort. I do worry that at some point we will start seeing an increase in the number of cases and we may not know it until it’s too late to protect yourself and you’ve been exposed.”

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