With 75 new cases and five more deaths reported over the weekend, Cass County’s COVID-19 case load has increased more than 65 percent in the last 18 days, according to information provided by the local Health Department on Tuesday.
The number of positive cases jumped from 475 at the end of October to 784 by Tuesday, Nov. 17, an increase of 309 cases (65 percent) in just 18 days.
With additional deaths reported, the county death toll now stands at 20 as of Thursday.
The county as of Thursday now lists 243 active cases, while 579 cases are now listed as recovered. Of the new cases reported since Saturday, most are considered to be “community spread,” cases, or cases not connected to the outbreak at the Heritage Manor nursing facility in Beardstown.
It was April 17, 2020, when the Cass County Health Department reported the county’s first case of COVID-19. By the end of June the case count topped 130, and a slow, but steady, growth in the case count pushed the county’s case total to 144 at the end of July.
Then came the August spike when the numbers more than doubled with 304 total cases reported by the end of the month.
The growth rate continued at a slow but steady pace in September and October, with the total case count standing at 475 heading into the Halloween weekend, an increase of 171 cases in 60 days for an average of about three new cases per day.
The sudden acceleration of the disease’s growth rate is disturbing to County Health Department officials.
“With the Thanksgiving holiday coming, followed by Christmas and New Year’s Day, this is a crucial time,” said Cass County Health Department Director Teresa Armstrong. “After the year we’ve had, it’s understandable that families want to be together, but if people don’t take precautions, if they don’t wear masks and maintain social distancing, this could get massively worse.”
Armstrong said the current COVID surge is already putting a severe strain on the area’s hospital capacities. “Last spring, during the height of things, Memorial Hospital only had one COVID wing. Now they have six and are struggling to find staffing,” she said.
“Just about every health care provider is having difficulty maintaining staffing as people find themselves having a close contact or developing COVID themselves and having to be quarantined.
Even with the outbreak reported at Heritage Health, Armstrong said the by far the majority of cases being reported now are a result of “community spread.”
“It’s just everywhere now,” Armstrong said. “Sure JBS is still reporting cases among its employees, but it’s equally likely that the employee got the disease from another family member and not at work.” Armstrong said JBS, the county’s largest employer, continues to conduct random testing of its employees and those who are symptomatic are sent home or referred to the health department for testing.
The health department is currently scheduling drive-up testing appointments every five minutes between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. “We’re double booking these slots so we can test as many people as we can,” she said.
Testing in Virginia is being conducted at the First United Methodist Church located at 401 E. Broadway Street.
The Health Department had been operating a drive-up testing site at its Beardstown location on Heritage Drive, but high winds destroyed the tent/shelter used for the tests, Armstrong said.
“We’re currently trying to locate a suitable location that will allow drive-up access and allow our staff to be protected from the cold and wind,” she said Tuesday.