While COVID-19 numbers continue to climb on the home front, the virus has hit a couple Polk County is quick to call its own.
According to a news release, Gov. Mike Parson and his wife, first lady Teresa Parson, have both tested positive for COVID-19.
The release said Teresa Parson was tested Wednesday morning, Sept. 23, “out of an abundance of caution” after she was “displaying minor symptoms.”
After Teresa Parson’s positive test result, the governor was also tested “and received a positive result,” the release said.
A release shared by the governor’s office Thursday afternoon said at this time, Parson feels healthy, and the first lady's symptoms remain mild.
In a video shared by the Parson campaign Wednesday, Gov. Parson said he and the first lady are “fine.”
Parson said “we sure thought the best thing we could do was for her to get tested” when the first lady started showing symptoms.
In a video on her Facebook page, Teresa Parson said she woke up "with a few cold-like symptoms" and decided a COVID-19 test was necessary because she and the governor spend time in the public.
"I want to reassure you, I'm going to take the next few days and take care of myself," Teresa Parson said.
Parson said the couple is "taking all precautions moving forward.”
He said they would be separated and in quarantine for the time being. They will remain in isolation consistent with Department of Health and Senior Services guidelines, a release said.
As a precautionary measure, the governor's office, mansion and security staff have also been tested for COVID-19 and await results, per news releases. All staff members who’ve been in close contact with the governor and first lady will work remotely.
“Gov. Parson will continue to fulfill his duties from the governor's mansion for the next 10 days and participate virtually in scheduled events, calls and interviews,” the release said.
The release said all official and campaign events have been canceled until further notice.
“Other close contacts of the governor and first lady are being identified, and the governor's office is working closely with DHSS and the Cole County Health Department on contact tracing efforts,” a release said.
Staff members who have not been identified as close contacts of the Parsons continue to work in the office, a release said.
“The governor's office will continue to operate without interruption during this time,” a release said.
In his video, Parson asked for prayers as he and the first lady move forward.
He reminded Missouri residents to socially distance, wear a mask and wash hands frequently.
“If you are sick or experience COVID-19 symptoms, please contact your physician and take the necessary steps to protect yourself and others,” a release said.
State Auditor Nicole Gallaway, Parson’s opponent in the upcoming November election, released a statement following the announcement.
“I wish Gov. Parson and first lady Teresa Parson a safe and full recovery,” Galloway said. “This is a stark reminder that this virus can reach anyone, anywhere and that this pandemic is far from over. We must all continue to do our part in preventing the spread of the virus by practicing social distancing, washing hands, and wearing a mask.”
Confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 for the county continued to sharply rise this week, with the Polk County Health Center announcing 46 cases, a new single-day record, added on Thursday, Sept. 24.
This week, Polk County has added 137 new cases, up to 688 on Friday, Sept. 25, from 551 on Friday, Sept. 18. Active cases reached 161, and the number of people quarantined reached 724 by Friday.
Polk County has remained in step three of the second phase of its COVID-19 Response and Recovery Plan since Tuesday, June 23, when the county had 13 confirmed cases.
Michelle Morris, health center administrator, previously told the BH-FP the county’s status within the recovery plan depends upon four factors — the number of cases, availability of hospital beds, testing capabilities and contact tracing monitoring.
Carol Bookhout, the health center’s community educator and public information officer, said the Polk County Healthcare Coalition has been meeting to discuss the recent increase in cases.
“Evaluations are being made regarding the impact on our healthcare system and the health department,” Bookhout said. “The coalition will make recommendations to county and city government after careful evaluation of all systems, taking into consideration impacts on our healthcare system, schools and economy.”
Bookhout said the county’s testing capabilities and recovery rates are strong.
However, she said the health center is considering using third-party contact tracing options to “relieve some strain on the services provided by the center.”
Bookhout said Polk County’s positivity rate is currently 15%, according to the Missouri Hospital Association.
“With a high positivity rate, we must consider the possible negative effects on our long-term care facilities, healthcare system and local businesses in regard to staffing a healthy workforce,” she said.
She added that the testing requirements for long-term care facilities is driven by the county’s high positivity rate.
“This can be a hindrance to facilities struggling to retain staff during an already highly stressed work environment,” Bookhout said. “... As a community we can work together to support our healthcare system, long-term care facilities and local businesses by exercising the prevention tools we know make an impact.”
While both Cox Health and Mercy hospitals in Springfield have reported they are nearing capacity, Citizens Memorial Hospital says it is holding steady.
“We had a higher patient census last week than this week,” marketing director Tamera Heitz-Peek said via email. “Our capacity is good, and we still have room for patients.”
As of Thursday night, CMH had three COVID-19 positive patients admitted in the hospital, she said.
The recent increase in cases, Bookhout said, “can be attributed to several large group gatherings and social events in the community.”
“We encourage residents of Polk County to stay vigilant in their fight against the coronavirus,” she said. “We understand the weariness that comes from physical distancing, wearing masks, changing school routines, sporting event interruptions and large group gatherings. However, we must continue to maintain these preventative measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Polk County.”
For more information about the county’s response and recovery plan, visit the health center’s website at polkcountyhealthcenter.org.