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This article is free to all readers because it includes information important to public safety and health in our community.

Federal health recommendations this week include limiting private gatherings at home and social gatherings of any size, especially indoors, as Jefferson City and Cole County continue to have high levels of COVID-19 transmission.

The latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report — dated Oct. 25 and published by The Center for Public Integrity — continued to list Jefferson City, Cole County and other Mid-Missouri metro areas and counties as having high levels of new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents and high lab test positivity rates.

That puts in the "red zone" Jefferson City, Columbia and Boone, Cole, Camden, Callaway, Osage, Miller, Moniteau, Morgan, Gasconade and Maries counties — listed as they are ranked highest to lowest in terms of the number of new cases reported in the last three weeks.

Their respective red zone lists are also punctuated by 16 other Missouri metro areas and 68 other counties.

According to the task force's report, 87 percent of all Missouri counties have moderate or high levels of community transmission, with 68 percent having high levels in the red zone.

The state's infection rate of 199 new cases per 100,000 residents topped the national average of 133 new cases per 100,000 people.

Springfield topped the state's metro area red zone list — the only metro area listed above Jefferson City — and St. Charles County topped the county list, with Greene and Boone counties only between it and Cole County in fourth.

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Both Jefferson City hospitals have been seeing rising admissions because of COVID-19, and though they've told the News Tribune they're prepared, the rising cases put more strain on resources including beds and staffing.

"All indicators of community spread are increasing, including percent of nursing homes with positive staff members and residents, and community spread is increasing hospital admissions, leading to potential resource constraints," according to the White House task force's latest report.

Therefore, "Mitigation efforts must be increased to control community spread to include mask wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene and avoiding crowds in public and specifically, social gatherings in private."

"We are finding that as the weather cools, friends and families are moving social gatherings indoors, significantly increasing spread," the report notes.

It's recommended communities "limit large and small social gatherings; current transmissions are linked to home gatherings. People must remember that seemingly uninfected family members and friends may be infected but asymptomatic. When meeting people who are not a part of one's household, masking and physical distancing must be observed at all times, especially when indoors."

Other recommendations made include to trace exposures of nursing home staff who test positive to decrease introduction of the disease into nursing homes, and make sure hospitals "have access to antivirals and antibodies and ensure early use as treatment (within 48 hours). Need visibility from all hospitals on admissions and supplies in order to adequately support them."

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