New announcements from pharmaceutical companies and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the last few weeks have brought a new wave of hope in the fight against COVID-19 in Nodaway County, where Health Department Administrator Tom Patterson’s optimism has ebbed and flowed with the daily caseload as the pandemic drags on.
In the last 45 days, drug manufacturers have made strides in the development of several COVID-19 vaccines, while Nodaway County has recorded more virus cases than it did in the first six months on the pandemic. From April 2 — when the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the county — to Oct. 15, Nodaway County recorded 988 cases of the virus. In the month-and-a-half since, the county reported 1,049 new cases, 759 of which came in November.
On the heels of the county’s worst month in its fight against the virus, one that came with three additional deaths among county residents, companies like Moderna and Pfizer have announced Phase 3 testing results of vaccines that each have efficacy rates of more than 90%. Moderna applied to receive emergency use operation from the Food and Drug Administration, while Pfizer’s vaccines was granted emergency operation in the United Kingdom.
And Dec. 2, a day after Nodaway County reported 24 new virus cases and the county’s seven-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases rose slightly to 18.29, the CDC leaked plans to shorten the mandatory close contact quarantine length to 10 days, rather than 14. Under the new guidelines, close contacts would only have to quarantine for seven days if they test negative for COVID-19.
The new guidelines, presented Dec. 2 at a White House coronavirus task force meeting but not yet officially announced by the CDC, are set to have the most immediate impact on the residents of Nodaway County, where there are 238 active cases of COVID-19, 24 of which involve Northwest staff or students.
“We have to endure and be diligent and practice all the way through,” Patterson said in a phone interview. “It’s not time to let up. We’re gonna have to go through early stages of the vaccinations and vaccines, whatever’s available as it comes, so we can get those things started. And when vaccines are available locally, we’re not going to be able to — it doesn’t mean we’re going to be able to let up.”
The renewed promise of a vaccine and new guidelines come one week after the Maryville City Council released a seventh emergency order regarding COVID-19, one that limits social gatherings in the city to 10 people and places temporary occupancy restrictions on some businesses. The order also calls for enhanced enforcement of Maryville’s mask mandate, which now applies to every person over the age of 5.
The criteria of the seventh emergency order applies to the city as long as Nodaway County is considered by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to be “Category 1: Extreme Risk.” The designation is given to counties with COVID-19 positivity rates higher than 15%. As of Dec. 2, the county’s positivity rate was 20.9% — the latest available data at the time of publication.
“The seventh emergency order will closely align with the state’s guidance … have limited impacts on businesses but certainly hopefully have more impacts on the decrease of spread of COVID-19,” City Manager Greg McDanel told the Northwest Missourian.
Still, the county is largely better off than it was two weeks ago in its fight against the coronavirus, as the prospect of a vaccine and new quarantine guidelines are set to slightly ease the burden caused by the virus. In the middle part of November, Nodaway County saw all-time highs in single-day case counts, the seven day rolling average and the county’s active case total. After the county reported a single-day record of 49 cases Nov. 11, the seven day average peaked at 33.29 Nov. 14, as the active case count reached 365, a county record.
In the aftermath of COVID-19’s strongest grip on the county to date, cases have started subsiding. The active case count in the county has withered into the 230s, lower than it’s been since the earliest parts of November. And after ballooning into triple digits briefly, the caseload at Northwest sits below 30 again, as it did for nearly a month from mid-September into October.
Even with the positive trend of late, Patterson, who remained cautiously optimistic throughout the duration of the pandemic, is still approaching the pandemic with a sense of patience. He’s watched the county’s case count fluctuate for eight months, and more severely over the last four. And while he sees a growing light at the end of the pandemic’s tunnel, one that has stretched on for nine months, he’s still not sure how close the light really is.
“We’re just gonna have to work and endure on until probably early spring,” Patterson said. “I would guess probably by early spring, we’ll start feeling a lot better about where we’re at. I think we have a few more months of this.”