Two weeks ago, Nodaway County Health Department Administrator Tom Patterson wasn’t yet sure what to make of the sudden drop in COVID-19 cases throughout the county. He had watched the seven-day rolling average of positive cases drop into single digits for the first time in weeks Sept. 9, and he wanted more time to assess the latest trends.
A week might be a good measuring stick, Patterson said then. Two weeks, he said, would be even better.
Now, 14 days after Patterson first commented on the downtick in COVID-19 cases, the trend has kept up for a full two weeks, as the county’s active case count has dropped from 142 to 50 and as the seven-day rolling average has decreased to 6.14 as of Sept. 23 — the latest available data at the time of publication.
“It sounds like we’re having the same conversation,” Patterson said in a phone call Sept. 23. “And that’s a good thing.”
The continued drop in cases comes more than a week after the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the Missouri National Guard hosted a community testing event in Maryville Sept. 14, where two of 205 residents tested were positive.
Patterson said the pair of positive tests represented a smaller figure than he expected to see from the event, but that the results were largely in line with total population trends in the region. Patterson said he had predicted five testees might yield positive results at the community event, but he’s happy with the outcome, of course, and happy with the way cases continue to trend in the county.
“I feel better about it than I did two weeks ago and a week ago,” Patterson said. “Next week we’ll be closing in on a month — three weeks to a month. I’ll feel — I mean, I don’t know, I think that’s a pretty good indicator, hopefully, of what to expect. We’re still not out of the woods yet, but at least we’re not going backwards.”
Case trends at both Northwest and Maryville High School — the largest of eight secondary schools in Nodaway County — mirror the decline reported at the county level.
Northwest’s active case count has hovered in the teens after peaking at 189 late last month. As of Sept. 23, 17 students and one staff member are isolated with the coronavirus, while more than 97% of Northwest’s 38 on-campus isolation beds remain available.
The lull in cases at Northwest represents a complete turnaround from where the University started the in-person semester. The University’s Wellness Center tracked more than 1,000 visits to the on-campus clinic in the first three weeks of classes as active cases at Northwest jumped from 11 on Aug. 19, the first day of classes, to more than 170 two weeks later.
At the height of the COVID-19 spike among the campus community, close to 70% of the county’s active cases involved Northwest staff or students. That number has almost cut in half, down to 36% Sept. 23, as the gross number of active cases has shrunk to a fraction of what it once was.
“From our lens, I would say that our mitigation measure had a lot to do with it,” Northwest Communication Manager Mark Hornickel said in a phone call last week. “People are wearing their face coverings. As you look around campus, we’re seeing people follow the mitigation measures.”
At Maryville High School, where an early spike in quarantines forced the Maryville R-II School District to shift to a hybrid learning model two weeks ago, cases and quarantines have each seen a significant decline.
As of Sept. 23, the district had 17 total students in quarantine, with nine of those students set to return to class by Sept. 28, Maryville Superintendent Becky Albrecht said. Throughout the semester, 13 students have tested positive for COVID-19 and 185 students have been placed in quarantine. There are zero active cases among district students.
“It’s hard to establish the kind of causal relationship, but we do know that since we have had the hybrid schedule at the high school, we’ve had to do no quarantine contact tracing during school hours,” Albrecht said in a phone call Sept. 23. “We have had some students that have been positive, but that hasn’t resulted in us notifying County Health with close contacts.”
The district hasn’t implemented a hybrid model at the middle or elementary school level, where Albrecht said teaching remote students presents a harder set of challenges for both students and teachers. The age of elementary school students is also a motivating factor in keeping the group in-person full time, since they can’t stay home by themselves.
Instead, the district has leaned toward a “cohort” mode atl Eugene Field Elementary School in an attempt to reduce the number of close contacts students might have. The elementary and middle schools have accounted for 104 of the district’s 185 total quarantines. All 17 of the district’s current quarantines come from the two schools.
“Their numbers have dropped,” Albrecht said, “but they haven’t been completely eradicated like they have at the high school.”
Despite the hybrid model’s success in limiting the number of Maryville High School students in quarantine, Albrecht said the district hopes to return to a five-day-a-week in-person learning setting after the end of the school’s first quarter Oct. 16. Albrecht said the traditional model remains the district’s preference, though she said the feasibility of returning to completely in-person instruction is depending on the slowdown in cases continuing.
Still, as other area school districts, including in Savannah and St. Joseph, struggle with mounting quarantines and case totals, Maryville appears to have contained the spread of COVID-19 among students — at least for now.
“It seems to be working for us right now, but we were having more trouble in the beginning than some of these schools,” Albrecht said. “So I think when it hits you is problematic. Right now, we’re enjoying the little lull, but who knows what next week will bring?”