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Health, Science, Environment

Phelps County Coronavirus Cases Have Spiked Over The Past Month

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Jonathan Ahl
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Cars line up at the Phelps Health Medical Center drive-thru screening and COVID testing area in Rolla.

ROLLA — The coronavirus pandemic's effects were somewhat muted in Phelps County for the first several months, with relatively few cases, but that has changed rapidly.

On Oct. 8, the Phelps-Maries County Health Department reported 152 active cases, including six COVID-19 patients in the hospital. One month later, the active cases soared to more than 400, and hospitalizations nearly tripled to 16.

And since that report, the health department confirmed that a non-school-sanctioned homecoming dance was held at a local restaurant, with some of the more than 150 high schoolers in attendance positive with the virus.

“This event has the potential to be a super-spreader event with more cases expected over the next several weeks,” the department said in a statement posted to social media.

“We’re extremely concerned,” said Ed Clayton, CEO of Phelps Health Medical Center, the only hospital in the county.

Clayton said Thursday the rogue homecoming dance is getting a lot of attention, but it’s not an isolated incident.

“I’m aware of numerous situations where we gather people together in close quarters where masks aren’t worn,” Clayton said.

Not only is the number of cases increasing, so might be their severity.

“Anecdotally I can tell you that those that we are testing seem to be sicker. We’re seeing a lot more patients that are actually exhibiting symptoms,” Clayton said.

Missouri University of Science and Technology also saw a spike in cases. The campus had averaged about a dozen new cases a week for the past two months. Last week it reported 38 new cases.

Phelps Health still has capacity to treat all patients, but Clayton said he is concerned about how long that will last if the cases continue to multiply.

“We have extensive plans in place to maximize our ability to treat COVID patients, but we are also up against staffing issues with our front line workers being among those who are testing positive,” Clayton said.

From the beginning of the pandemic until the beginning of November, 16 people with COVID died in Phelps County. Since then, another 15 have died.

“We all need to do the minimum,” Clayton said. “Wear masks, practice social distancing, practice good hand hygiene and limit the size of indoor gatherings."

Neither Rolla nor Phelps County has a mask mandate.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

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