Positivity rate is the highest it’s ever been

Too many tests for county health department to contact trace

Those testing positive will receive a text with link to a digital form

The Jasper County Health Department in Carthage, admitting that it is overwhelmed by the surge in COVID-19 cases since the first of the year, is asking anyone testing positive to fill out an online form in order to more quickly inform their contacts that they may have been exposed.

The change in contact tracing was announced Thursday:

The number of new positive cases received daily exceeds our ability to make timely contacts with people for contact tracing.

In other words, Tony Moehr, health department administrator, in a conversation Thursday, said, “We’re being buried by new cases.”

He blamed the omicron variant for the dramatic rise in cases since the first of the year.

“Delta was still strong before the first of the year,” he said. 

But then omicron started to be detected in samples at the Carthage and Joplin sewage treatment plants. (The Center Creek 201 Wastewater Treatment Plant (serving Webb City, Carterville and Oronogo, is not monitoring the presence of the coronavirus.)

Now, he said almost all of the “sewer shed” is omicron, and 98.7% of all positive results are omicron.

There’s also more testing now. Moehr said the Ivy Medical drive-thru testing site, at 115 N. Madison St. in Webb City, is a great resource and that his staff has been sending people there.

Positive percentage rate has doubled

The demand for testing is obviously related to the number of people developing symptoms since the first of the year – either from the coronavirus, colds or flu.

There are even cases where people have both COVID-19 and the flu, according to Moehr.

He reports the rate of positive cases is at an all-time high for Jasper County. From 2020 through 2021, he said the positivity rate ranged from 8% to 18%.

Earlier this week, he cited a 36% positive rate reported by Mercy Hospital Joplin. Other recent reports he’s seen have ranged from 30 to 35%. “That’s the highest it’s ever been,” Moehr said.

Under the health department’s new contact tracing procedure – instead of a phone call, those testing positive will receive a text message asking them to follow a link to an encrypted form, where they can list their contacts.

“The Jasper County Health Department, in an effort to work quickly through the mass number of positive COVID-19 labs we continue to receive, has implemented an electronic document to collect the interview information.

Individuals who test positive will receive a text message with a secure link including instructions for completion. The electronic form should be completed for each household member who tested positive. Upon receipt of submitted information the letter including CDC recommendations will be issued and sent to the email provided. If a person has questions, please contact our office, (417) 358-3111.

Free PCR tests by mail from the state

If you haven’t already, you can request four free at-home COVID-19 tests to be delivered by mail at COVIDtests.gov.

Moehr pointed out that anyone can request free PCR tests from the state. They will be delivered by FedEx within a few days. Once completed, the tests will be shipped back next-day to a lab. (There is a limited amount per day so try as early as possible.)

There are benefits to both the rapid (antigen) and PCR tests. The Ivy Medical site in Webb City samples and provides results for both.

Moehr said that’s good because although the instant tests are fast, they aren’t as reliable. They’re especially known for not detecting the presence of the virus – providing false negative tests.

PCR tests are more reliable but take longer to process.

The rapid tests will typically detect the virus one day prior to the onset of symptoms and up to six days after.

PCR tests can detect the virus two days prior to the onset of symptoms and up to a couple weeks after.

If you’ve been positive and want to get back to work, you’ll want the rapid test because it shows you’re clear sooner.

Early on during the pandemic, Moehr said PCR tests were kind of a problem because they would still come back positive long after the patient was shedding the virus.

The best defense: booster shots

Moehr said the hospitalization rate of persons fully vaccinated is “quite low” – 3 to 5%.

Staying out of hospitals “is what it’s all about at this point,” Moehr said.