It’s been a full week since the 7-day rolling average of daily COVID-19 cases in Nodaway County first trekked into the twenties Aug. 26 with 24.7 cases per day. In the seven days since then, the county has averaged at least 25 cases a day, as the total case count has more than doubled since in-person and hybrid classes started at Northwest Aug. 19.
In the days after a mass email from University President John Jasinski warned students that Northwest might “soon be sending our students home” if they didn’t begin “adhering to basic mitigation efforts” Aug. 21 the county’s daily case average jumped from less than 10 per day to where it is now, mostly ebbing and flowing between 25 and 30 case per day over the last week.
But even as cases have skyrocketed both in the county and at Northwest, where there are at least 189 active cases COVID-19, the University, as well as city officials, appear to be in a holding pattern, as the daily case count holds firm and as the county’s death toll mounts.
“Not right now,” City Manager Greg McDanel said in a phone interview Sept. 2. “I think it’s one of these things that, obviously, the data changes daily and the situation’s very fluid. And so, we will keep, you know, on the agenda from here on out as far as COVID-19-related discussion.”
There were 270 active COVID-19 cases in the county as of Sept. 1 — the latest available data point at the time of publication — and close to 70% of those involve Northwest students and staff members. There have been six coronavirus-related deaths in the county. When classes started, there had been one.
Maryville’s city council — which McDanel said has been in consistent contact and agreement with representatives from the Nodaway County Health Department, Mosaic Medical Center - Maryville and the University — has mulled implementing further mitigation measures since passing a citywide mask ordinance July 22. McDanel said the council has weighed potential limits on gatherings and business occupancies, as well as a nuisance party ordinance that would crack down on social gatherings, like the string of parties Aug. 15 that prompted Northwest to test 78 students Aug. 21 who were exposed to COVID-19.
Councilman Tye Parsons took to Twitter Sept. 1 and polled followers on what measure they thought might be most effective. In his poll, Parsons included the options McDanel described as well as increased mask enforcement. Maryville Public Safety Interim Director Ron Christian said not a single summons has been issued to a Maryville citizen for non-compliance as of Sept. 2 — though McDanel said the ordinance, which is set to expire at the end of this month, is “doing its job.”
“Mask ordinances are very tough to enforce,” McDanel said. “Right now our enforcement is education and compliance. … I think, generally speaking, it’s gone pretty well.”
While McDanel said the council could still take further actions, he said any additional measures would be made in coordination with the Health Department and the University. And McDanel emphasized that no plans are imminent, a sentiment echoed by Northwest’s Vice President of Student Affairs Matt Baker last week.
Most of the University's COVID-19 cases have come from the off-campus student population, which accounts for 143 of Northwest’s 189 active COVID-19 cases, according to Northwest’s COVID-19 dashboard. The dashboard, which Northwest’s Secretary to the Board of Regents Melissa Evans said is “nearly identical to the University’s current internal dashboard,” was made public last week in response to a records request submitted by The Missourian.
There are more active cases among Northwest students now than there were total cases in the entire county at the start of August. And while the daily case count dipped slightly over the weekend, with the county recording five cases Aug. 29, the average has surged again, fueled by a single-day total of 46 cases Aug. 31.
McDanel acknowledged that as the county’s case load mounts, so does concern among city officials and area decision-makers. But he said whether the increasing cases could be considered alarming depends largely on what population groups are affected. The spike in cases has been almost entirely driven by college-aged students, with nearly 70% of the county’s total cases involving patients aged 10-29.
And McDanel said he’s hopeful the county’s average caseload, which has hovered near 30, won’t compound, leaving the county, the city and the University playing somewhat of a waiting game as the virus continues to surge.
“With no further guidance from the state or the feds, we’re on our own here a little bit,” McDanel said. “That’s a challenge. … I think when you step back and you look at the increase, I think we knew this was probably going to happen.”