The coronavirus Delta variant wave that hit Missouri in May and peaked in early August continued to abate in September, but the decline has been slow.
There were 1,221 more COVID-19 cases reported statewide by the Department of Health and Senior Services in the 30-day month than the 60,847 cases reported in the 31 days of July, making it the third worst month of the year for new infections.
And the 883 deaths reported in September – 389 in September and 494 from previous months – brought the number of deaths since May 1 to 2,373, well more than half of all deaths from COVID-19 this year.
One reason cases have not declined as fast as they rose is the spread of coronavirus infections among children. Prior to the start of school, fewer than one of every eight COVID-19 infections were in children under 18. Since the last week of August, 7,724 children under 18 – one of every four cases with reported age data during that period – have contracted the disease.
“One of our Gentry County schools are at the same point three weeks into school as they were six months into school last year,” said Teresa McDonald, administrator of the Tri-County Health Department, which serves DeKalb, Gentry and Worth counties in northern Missouri.
The worst month for her three counties was July, McDonald said.
“It was cooling down in August a little bit and we did see an increase after school hit and we expected that,” McDonald said.
The Delta variant spread quickly through families, she said, mirroring the experience in other parts of the state. Of 28 active cases in Gentry County as of Thursday afternoon, she said, five are in one family.
“We are seeing more children become ill with the Delta variant than we were with the alpha [original] variant,” she said.
Every measurement of the disease has shown a decline from summer peaks. The seven-day positive rate on PCR tests, the ones with long swabs that are sent to labs for analysis, stood at 8.8 percent on Thursday, down from a peak of 15.2 percent in early August. Hospitalizations, which exceeded 2,450 inpatients in the third week of August, were down by one-third by Thursday.
And the seven-day average of reported cases was 1,782 per day, down more than 40 percent from the peak.
New vaccinations, however, are also on the decline. Approximately 9,000 doses of vaccine were given to people getting their first or second shot during the second week of September, declining to about 7,000 a day in the past week. On the most recent days reported, more people received booster shots than a first or second dose.
McDonald said she is planning a booster shot clinic on Oct. 18 at Albany High School, with enough doses for 600 people. So far, she said, 100 have signed up.
One of the most-watched reports is the weekly analysis of wastewater samples from across the state. The latest, issued Sept. 24, shows two communities where viral loads are increasing, 17 with viral loads declining, and more than 40 where the trend is uncertain.
The mapping also shows that the Delta variant is the only strain being seen in the samples. That’s good news, said McDonald.
“It is very helpful because if I know I only have one variant circulating, our nursing home can be more cautious with PPE,” she said.
If there are multiple variants, she said, staff must change all their protective clothing and gear between each patient. Instead, the precautions can be reduced to sanitizing and, for example, changing gloves.
“If everyone on the wing has the same virus, I don’t have to worry about cross-contaminating patients,” McDonald said.
She will be watching the reports for any change, McDonald said.
“Second I see another variant,” she said, “I will be calling my nursing home.”
This article by Rudi Keller is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.