Cole County health director: High COVID-19 positivity rate from testing symptomatic people

Ryan Esterline performs a COVID-19 test Thursday at Capital Region Medical Center's mobile test site on Madison Street. Esterline is typically a phlebotomist at the hospital but is taking her turn at administering testing.
Ryan Esterline performs a COVID-19 test Thursday at Capital Region Medical Center's mobile test site on Madison Street. Esterline is typically a phlebotomist at the hospital but is taking her turn at administering testing.

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Among Missouri counties, Cole County's COVID-19 positivity rate is high - at 41.5 percent, it was 19th highest, according to data published by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services on Tuesday.

Although it was slightly higher Tuesday than Monday, the county ranking declined by two spots day over day (other counties increased faster than Cole County). Monday's rate was 41.3 percent.

Positivity rates are the percentage of all coronavirus tests performed that come out positive for the counties. Public health officials often use the rate to help determine how much transmission of the virus there is in a county.

A reason for a high positivity rate in the county is that testing in Cole County is focused on people who experience COVID-19 symptoms or who are pre-surgery hospital clients, according to Cole County Health Department Director Kristi Campbell.

"Therefore, it makes sense that the positivity rate would be higher if mostly those with symptoms are being tested," Campbell said.

A report from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health states that high positivity rates may accurately indicate how widespread a virus is within a community. The report also says high rates often come about because a community does not do enough testing and asymptomatic patients don't receive the tests.

Community testing events are scheduled 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday at the Osage County Fairgrounds in Linn and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday at First Assembly of God church, 1900 Route C in Jefferson City.

Go to the DHSS testing registration page at https://dcphdo02redcap.azurewebsites.net/redcap/surveys/?s=XTLH7FCLD7 to register.

Cole County has had several consecutive days with about 60 new positive cases, according to data on the county Health Department's website.

"There were several small clusters of cases that led to our increases in cases," Campbell said Tuesday. "We observed clusters related to state office buildings, Algoa Correctional Center, Jefferson City Correctional Center, schools and school activities (including) teams, and mass gatherings. Then we observed some household transmission as a result."

Campbell also noted there have been clusters of cases in long-term care facilities.

In a Tuesday news release from the Cole County Health Department Tuesday, Campbell said 70 percent of positive cases  in the county may be traced back to travel or contact with a known case.

"We are seeing increased interaction at social gatherings where social distancing is not easily maintained," Campbell said. "We are urging everyone to continue to take responsibility for their own health and to protect others. Please reconsider hosting or attending social gatherings that bring together more than 25 people that are outside of your normal interactions."

Those activities create high risk for transmission of the COVID-19 virus, the release said.

Other precautions the release reiterated were:

  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Adhere to all social distancing requirements and do not be within six feet of others outside of your household for more than 15 minutes.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating; if washing is not available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, elbow or sleeve when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wear a face covering when close contact cannot be avoided and social distancing cannot be maintained.

As of 6 p.m. Monday, Cole County has reported 2,353 total cases of COVID-19 since March, with 217 remaining active. Fifteen COVID-19 patients in the county have died, and 2,013 have recovered, according to the Cole County Health Department.

This article was updated at 4:50 p.m. Oct. 20, 2020, with additional details.