After COVID-19 cases both at Northwest and throughout Nodaway County had largely subsided in the middle and late parts of September, the seven-day rolling average of new virus cases in the county has continued to increase throughout the month of October.
With 26 new cases reported Oct. 20, the total COVID-19 case in the county has surpassed the 1,000 case mark, with 1,1017 confirmed and 50 probable cases in the county since the virus first arrived in April.
On Oct. 2, Nodaway County reported nine new cases of COVID-19, as the seven-day rolling average rose slightly from 7.43 to 7.86, marking the start of the uptick that has now stretched for three full weeks. The rolling average of new daily cases has increased in 15 of the 18 days reported since then and reached a month-long high of 16.57 Oct. 16. The average has remained in double digits for two full weeks now, sitting at 15 as of Oct. 20 — the latest available data at the time of publication.
Meanwhile, cases involving Northwest staff and students have relatively skyrocketed in October. After active cases among student and staff populations remained less than 20 for nearly two weeks in late September and the first week of October, the case count has ballooned to 51 — more than five times what it was Oct. 1.
As of Oct. 20, the active case count in Nodaway County as a whole sits at 172 — the highest it's been since early September, when the county was still reeling from an intense spike in cases that arrived with an influx of Northwest students in August. Northwest staff and students make up 30% of those active cases, down from a high of more than 69% at the height of the pandemic in the county.
The latest trend in cases in the county hasn’t come as a surprise to Nodaway County Health Department Administrator Tom Patterson, who said last week he anticipated the increases in cases to continue, though he predicted COVID-19 wouldn’t reach the levels it did in late August, when Northwest President John Jasinksi warned students the University’s in-person semester might soon end if mitigation efforts weren’t followed.
“It’s not looking better, but we’re not compounding, so it’s not doom and gloom either,” Patterson said in a phone call Oct. 21. “I think we may stay here a little bit, but I really don't know. It’s a total guess.”
Officials have blamed the rise in cases throughout the county and on Northwest’s campus, at least in part, to a sort-of COVID-19 fatigue, a theory that has gained traction at a national level. Patterson, as well as University and Maryville officials, has mentioned the phenomenon to the Northwest Missourian over the last several weeks, as cases continued to rise again three full months after Maryville’s mask ordinance went into effect.
And while the pandemic’s wearing effects seemed to first reach adults in the county in the earliest portions of October, they have now caught up with Northwest staff and students.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” University Communication Manager Mark Hornickel said last week. “We’re continuing to monitor this and the effects on our campus and the community.”
The continued rise in cases comes as temperatures in Nodaway County have started to regularly drop, which could result in increased community transmission of COVID-19, Patterson said, though he has two diverging patterns of thought on what the winter months might mean for the virus.
In Patterson’s first line of thinking, which he said is considered to be conventional wisdom, COVID-19 may spread throughout the county at higher rates in the winter months, with lower temperatures forcing social gatherings indoors, where the virus is more easily transmitted.
But, Patterson said, it’s possible social gatherings this winter come with smaller social circles, with less room to host a large number of guests like one might be able to outdoors in the summer months. The smaller social circles could lead to less transmission, Patterson said. He’s not sure which line of thinking will prevail.
“They might balance each other out somewhat,” Patterson said. “I think it would lean towards the former and not the latter, but, you know — I don’t know. I just can’t ignore that other. That trailing factor for me is that we’re also getting out less (in the winter).”
As temperatures drop and cases rise, Northwest staff and students still have more than a month left to go until Nov. 24, the end of the in-person and hybrid semester on the University’s campus. And while many of Northwest’s roughly 7,000 students will abandon Nodaway County for more than a month over the winter break, decreasing the volume of residents in Maryville, Patterson said he isn’t looking forward to the end of the in-person semester. He hasn’t had time to look forward much at all.
“It’s not even on my radar,” Patterson said. “Honestly, we’re just working day to day, trying to keep our messaging straight … trying to help out the community, including the college. Helping our patients and our cases. We’re just engaged, and that’s so far out there.”