COVID-19 Sign

Due to the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, the Franklin County Health Department’s capacity to investigate the cases in a timely manner is no longer possible. That was the message posted Monday on Facebook by Health Department Director Angie Hittson after 150 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the county in the past four days.

“Every interaction with persons outside your household should be treated as a risk for transmission,” Hittson said.

An 86-year-old woman in Washington died Monday, marking the 25th COVID-19-related death in Franklin County.

The death announcement came as 38 new cases were reported Tuesday and 33 on Monday.

Saturday marked another record high day of reporting with 41 cases, and Sunday followed with 38.

As of Tuesday, the county has averaged 34 new cases each day and the 10-day rolling total for new cases is now 259.

The testing positivity rate over the last 14 days is 8.9 percent and 5.3 percent overall since the beginning of the pandemic in March.

Hospitalizations have dropped to nine, and three of the active cases are residents of long-term care facilities.

In her post, Hittson asks residents who test positive for COVID-19 to immediately quarantine and not wait for contact from the health department.

“You should isolate if you are symptomatic or as soon as you are tested,” Hittson said. “Isolation means you do not go to work, to school or leave your home with the exception of a medical or family emergency.”

Hittson said while home, anyone sick or infected should separate themselves from others by staying in a specific “sick room” or area and using a separate bathroom (if available).

She also asks COVID-19-positive individuals to begin their own contact tracing. “Start making a contact list for ‘close contacts’ that you have been around 48 hours prior to symptom onset,” Hittson said. “Let your contacts know that they may havebeen exposed.”

In her post, Hittson stressed the practice of self-quarantining even before contact from health officials.

“If you have been within six feet of a confirmed COVID-19 case for at least 15 minutes, please self-quarantine at home away from others for 14 days after the last contact with the case and monitor for symptoms of COVID-19,” Hittson said. “If you are being tested for COVID-19, please be aware a negative test does not remove a close contact from quarantine.”

As the virus numbers continue to rise, Hittson also warns in her post that county businesses should be prepared.

For each new COVID-19 case, an average of 10 people (sometimes up to 40) have to be contacted to alert them of potential exposure to limit them from exposing others.

The county has hired six people to conduct contact tracing using CARES Act funds from the federal government. They join four full-time health department staff in making phone calls.

Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said the county is in the process of hiring 10 additional contact tracers, but the pool of applicants is limited due to the strict criteria required to ensure patient privacy. The criteria include anyone currently studying public health, epidemiology, nursing or any other medical background.

Brinker said there also has been contact tracer turnover due to the workload and stress.

“If you get called, it is for a reason,” Brinker said. “The last thing a tracer needs is someone to be belligerent. If you are told to quarantine, please do so.”

Brinker said space is being prepared in the basement of the juvenile building in Union, which once housed the county emergency management agency, to house the additional contact tracers.

One day recently, Hittson said she made more than 50 calls before noon. She said the average is 20 to 50 calls per day for the contact tracers.

Following the 10-person average, the 150 new cases in the past four days would require 1,500 people to be contacted by the county for tracing.

The county has been advertising that it is looking for more contact tracers on its website since May 4.

Franklin County received $12.2 million in CARES Act funds in May and as of mid-August had spent $507,339, according to the county treasurer’s office.

The county has spent $386,883 on cleaning supplies, masks and other personal protective equipment.

The two largest county expenditures were to AQM Computer Help in Union. The first was $97,375 for a new computer system for the county collector’s office and another $4,986 was spent on computers, monitors and scanners.

An additional $204,828 has been approved for reimbursements to 16 municipalities, library, school, fire and EMS districts. As of last month $83,482 of that has been paid out.

The county clerk’s office also has spent $36,612 in COVID-specific funding it received from the state of Missouri for protective equipment and cleaning supplies.

Last month, the county began a public information campaign, using about $30,000 in CARES funding to advertise on radio stations in Sullivan, Washington and with The Missourian.