Students in Masks

Junior Mamadou Seck continues to follow Northwest State University protocol for COVID-19. Nodaway County's daily average for new COVID-19 cases surpassed 30 for the first time this week. 

A little less than a month ago, as Nodaway County watched the early going of a third surge of COVID-19 cases in the county, Tom Patterson was optimistic. 

The Nodaway County Health Department administrator had weathered the storm in late August, when the arrival of Northwest students in Maryville brought with it an intense spike of new cases. Patterson had overseen the ensuing decrease in cases, too, watching the active case count in the county fall from a peak of 257 Sept. 3 to a low of 50 active cases three weeks later. 

The mask mandate had worked. The virus was nearly eradicated on Northwest’s campus, with active cases there dipping into single digits in early October. So when cases started to rise again, slowly but consistently, throughout the county in early October, Patterson was hopeful — even confident — in the middle part of last month. 

Things wouldn’t get as bad as they did in August, he said Oct. 21, when Nodaway County’s active case count was 167, still 90 cases short of the county’s peak caseload at the time. The seven-day rolling average of new cases in the county was 14.71. 

“It’s not looking better, but we’re not compounding, so it’s not doom and gloom either,” Patterson said then. “I think we may stay here a little bit, but I really don't know. It’s a total guess.” 

Now, nearly a month after Patterson projected the rate of COVID-19 cases in the county to remain largely the same, the new and active case counts have each spiked. The state of the coronavirus in Nodaway County did not get as bad as it did in late August. It got worse. 

“The whole state is red,” Patterson said in a phone call with the Missourian Nov. 18. “We’re just kind of enveloped in it everywhere. All our surrounding areas are seeing more cases; we’re seeing more cases. Everybody’s in a spike.” 

After reaching a new peak of 365 Nov. 14, the active case count in Nodaway County dropped slightly to 3338 Nov. 17 — the latest available data at the time of publication. Both figures are nearly 100 cases higher than the once-record case count Nodaway County set in early September. 

The rate of new daily COVID-19 cases in the county has spiked with the active case load. After steadily increasing from single digits to the low 20s throughout October, the seven-day rolling average for new virus cases in Nodaway County surpassed 30 for the first time Nov. 11. The seven-day average sat at 28.71 Nov. 16 after the health department reported 16 new virus cases. Twelve county residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, at Northwest, where the active case count peaked at 189 Aug. 31, the second wave of cases this fall has been less intense than the first. The University’s active case count entered into the triple digits again in early November, reaching a month-long high of 119 Nov. 6, before subsiding again. As of Nov. 17, the University’s active case count was 58. 

The latest wave of COVID-19 cases in the county has largely affected a wider demographic than it did when students returned for in-person and hybrid classes at Northwest in mid-August. At the height of Northwest’s infection rate in the semester’s early going, University staff and students accounted for close to 70% of the county’s active cases. Now, that figure sits at 17.16%, with the Northwest population accounting for 39.49% of total cases in the county since April, when the virus first arrived. 

Patterson attributed the shifting demographics — and much of the county’s growing caseload as a whole — to virus transmission in social settings, something he said is still being exacerbated by COVID-19 fatigue. The administrator said he wasn’t overly concerned about increased transmission of the virus over the upcoming holiday, mostly because he’s not sure how much worse things can get. As he has throughout the pandemic, Patterson urged residents to adhere to mitigation efforts, though he admitted he’s not as optimistic as he was a month ago.

“There’s enough numbers out there now that I don’t think (Thanksgiving is) going to have the same kind of impact that it would,” Patterson said. “It’s everywhere now. So people going and doing that — I think we will see some cases from that — I don’t know how much more impact it’s gonna have, because it’s already pretty bad.” 

With less than a week until on-ground classes at Northwest are set to end for the semester Nov. 24, Patterson expected the winter break to serve as good news for the county, with a significant portion of the student population set to leave for more than a month. But with the virus surging harder than it has at any point in the pandemic both in Nodaway County and throughout Missouri, and with the virus largely shifting away from the University, the break might not offer the sort of relief Patterson once hoped it would. 

“It really doesn’t matter if your kids are going home to their hometown, which is probably not that far away,” Patterson said. “The bulk of (students) probably live within a few hundred miles. I’m guessing; I don’t know that. They’re still inside that red, so, I mean, we’ll see ’em when they get back.”

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