For Polk County Health Center Administrator Michelle Morris, the numbers don’t lie — and they paint a grim picture.
“We are fighting a battle against a novel virus — COVID-19,” Morris simply said Thursday, Oct. 8.
She said the past two weeks have shown “the serious negative outcomes of the coronavirus in our community” with 18 deaths to date.
“One death is too many, and we have the opportunity to prevent more,” Morris said.
This week alone, the county added 94 new cases, reaching 913 total cases by Friday, Oct. 9.
As of press time Friday, the county had added nine deaths caused by the virus, doubling the total number in the past seven days.
“The virus has claimed the lives of too many Polk County residents already, and we are determined to prevent any more,” she said. “We need the help and support of our community to win this battle.”
In fact, she said it’s imperative Polk County’s residents take up every possible weapon to defeat their common enemy.
Morris said as of Wednesday, Sept. 30, the county’s positivity rate was 8%.
As of Thursday night, Oct. 8, the statewide positivity rate was 13.5% for the previous week.
“This rate, although lower than last week, is still too high,” she said. “Our positivity rate directly impacts our long-term care facilities and community workforce.”
A high positivity rate impacts long-term care facilities, creating additional requirements for testing and staffing shortages, she said.
“Our senior citizens deserve excellent care, and we can create a community that provides that care by using the weapons we have against the coronavirus,” Morris said.
Morris said COVID-19 also adds potential strain on local hospitals and physician offices.
“What weapons are at our disposal?” Morris asked.
She said county residents need to wash their hands, shrink their social circles, stay home more — especially when sick, keep at least 6 feet of distance between them and those outside their households and wear masks.
“We know that masking works,” Morris said.
In the next few weeks, she said, the health department plans to share information specific to Polk County to support the use of masking and to reveal the benefit it has provided in stopping the spread of COVID-19.
“Our preliminary data shows there are less exposures from an active case when both persons are masked,” Morris said.
She said the health center hopes the county’s residents will take the personal responsibility to mask when in public.
“For our office, masking is not a political issue — it is a prevention tool that works,” Morris said.
All residents of Polk County, she said, should be properly masked, covering the nose and mouth, when in public and also at home if near someone who is at high risk for contracting the virus.
In fact, she said the Polk County Health Center expects all individuals to wear a mask when in any public setting.
“Regardless of your personal preferences, political views or comfort, mask for the benefit of others,” Morris said. “Polk County residents, now is the time to be there for our friends and neighbors. Please help us help our community.”
As local residents take to social media and share petitions via change.org, including one called “Mask Mandate in Bolivar, Missouri” calling for masking ordinances in the city, at least one governmental body said it will not consider a mandate.
Presiding Commissioner Shannon Hancock said Thursday the county commission is not considering a masking mandate at this time.
“However, we would just encourage everyone to continue to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and also recommendations and expectations by the Polk County Health Center,” Hancock said.
While he didn’t definitively speak on a masking mandate, Bolivar mayor Chris Warwick, who released a video via social media this week to encourage residents, said the city works hand-in-hand with the county’s health care coalition as it faces the challenges presented by COVID-19 and makes decisions.
He said each Tuesday, city leaders, along with representatives from the health department, Citizens Memorial Hospital, Southwest Baptist University and county school districts, go over the latest information available about the virus and collaborate.
“We’ve all been in contact with one another, and we’re all working to support one another,” Warwick said.
The mayor said it’s important for residents to take a measured approach.
“One thing that I think is very important for citizens and those who are watching the numbers is to not react to one or two or three days,” Warwick said. “We really need to take into account a longer period of time on what is going on. If we’re reacting just based upon a quick spike or only on that information, that’s not a good picture of what is happening.”
Warwick said any type of death, whether it be from a car accident or COVID-19, is sad for the community.
“But, it’s also life,” Warwick said. “And so we don’t want to be blinded, in my opinion, by just reacting because there are deaths.”
He said even with efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 from the beginning of the pandemic, the community “understood that there were going to be deaths that came from this.”
“There was never a time in which anybody said there’d be no deaths,” Warwick said. “We haven’t moved the mark on what we’re trying to accomplish, and the message is still the same.”
Like Morris, Warwick asked community members to socially distance, wear masks, wash their hands and stay home when sick.
“These are critical aspects to our community,” he said. “This is a serious disease moving through our community, through our nation, and we need to take it seriously, whether or not it has directly affected us.”