The Nodaway County Health Department announced the deaths of two residents from COVID-19 Nov. 25 and 28, bringing the death toll from the virus to 36 at the time of publication.
The cautious optimism local health officials were holding onto a little over a month ago in regards to COVID-19 has all but disappeared. November was one of the worst months for virus cases in Nodaway County since the pandemic began. The ninth day of the month was the last time active cases were below 100 locally. There are 183 active cases of the virus in the county, according to the latest data available upon publication.
NCHD has been “swamped” the past few weeks, Administrator Tom Patterson said on Wednesday, with tests and the positivity rate increasing dramatically over the past few weeks.
“We’re in a tough spot; we’ve got a lot of cases. I don’t know what’s around the corner,” Patterson said with a sigh.
The 14-day positivity rate for the county was 24.6%, the fifth-highest for any county in the state during that span.
Northwest had a poor month with COVID-19 as well. The University did not have an active case count below 10 for the entire month, the first such month since November 2020. Lt. Amanda Cullin, member of the Crisis Response Team 2, described her and the team’s feelings on COVID-19 locally, frequently using one word: “concerned.”
“We’re concerned about supply chains. We’re concerned about access. And we’re even concerned about the ability to, oh, be safe,” Cullin said.
As has been the case throughout the past 21 months, an upward trend in COVID-19 cases has correlated with a rise in hospitalizations. Nate Blackford, president of Mosaic - Maryville, said the hospital had seven patients admitted with COVID-19, up from the two to four range it's been hovering at throughout the fall.
The recent spike in hospitalizations has caused longer emergency room wait times and forced Mosaic to use overflow rooms. Blackford estimated the hospital is performing 10-15 antibody treatments for COVID-19 a day.
“Healthcare capacity is absolutely stretched and is a concern for all of us, even for non-COVID-related conditions,” Blackford said.
Vaccines are helping stem the tide. Blackford said, despite the high number of cases, the cases to hospitalization ratio is down significantly from what it was a year prior.
In addition to the county’s recent struggles with the virus, a new threat looms as another COVID-19 variant, the omicron variant is discovered.
“We didn’t want any more of these, but we should expect them,” Patterson said.
The variant, named after the 15th letter in the Greek alphabet, was first detected in South Africa Nov. 24 before it was determined that it was likely in Europe prior to that. Officials announced the first confirmed U.S case of the variant Wednesday in California.
Due to the recent detection of the variant, much is unknown about it, including how transmissible it is, its severity and the vaccine’s effectiveness against it.
“With the volumes that we are seeing in the hospital right now, the volumes that we’re seeing in the clinics, to think about the introduction of another variant may, you know, have additional or a more significant impact is a little bit nerve-racking,” Blackford said.
Once again, officials are encouraging people to continue to follow proper precautions like masking and getting vaccinated, as well as getting booster shots, which are now available to all vaccinated individuals 18 or older.
“I do think it’s important to understand that this is a population health issue. For those struggling to make the decision for, you know, medical reasons or religious reasons or whatever those may be, I trust them to make the decisions that are best for them,” Blackford said. “But I think, and in the context of population health, the more people who have the vaccine, the better chance we’ll all have of moving past this stage.”
Patterson said he has noticed people became lax in following precautions since the beginning of October.
“Like it or not, we may be dealing with this for a while,” Patterson said.