By Lucas Lord
While the holiday season may be coming to an end, a massive surge in COVID-19 cases throughout Cass County is only just beginning. In just one week, 40.97 percent of 2,216 tests were positive, according to Cass County Health Department data. The positivity rate has more than doubled from 18 percent two weeks ago.
The majority of recent cases are symptomatic people in their 20s. Coming back from winter break, the Harrisonville school district is facing a similar problem.
“This first week back from break we have had 43 individuals test positive,” said Jill Filer, director of communications. “After the attorney general’s orders, our ability to respond to COVID is somewhat more limited. We are doing all we can to provide as much information to parents as possible so they can make an informed decision as to whether to quarantine their child or not if they test positive or are exposed.”
Since Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt ordered public health agencies and schools to cease their mask mandates and mandated quarantines, the school has made isolating a personal choice.
“If a student is in close contact with someone who is positive we still send out emails to inform parents so they know and we will continue to update our COVID dashboard on the website every Monday,” Filer said. “Our main goal is to provide all the information we can to families so they can stay informed.”
Filer said that in accordance with the new guidelines, a shorter isolation period may allow support staff, like those in food services, tech support and bus drivers to return to work as the district has been struggling with staff turnout.
“There have been some staffing problems all around,” she said. “We contract out our food and bus services and it has been tough finding people to fill those roles.”
While Filer said the majority of parents have chosen not to quarantine their children, positive or exposed, there have been a handful of families opt into the five-day quarantine and additional five-day masking period, namely staff.
“We have had a few go the route of undergoing quarantine, not many but a few,” Filer said. “We can encourage people to stay home if they aren’t feeling well or send them to the nurse for some rest throughout the day if they are sick. We are working hard to keep families informed enough that they feel safe with the decisions they make. Ultimately, if a child has a fever, it’s up to the parents if they want to come pick them up or not.”
Even though cases have been rapidly rising since Christmas, Sonya McLelland, director of marketing and public relations at Cass Regional Medical Center, said the majority of these new cases are likely yet-to-be reported.
“All our information is pointing to the fact that we have yet to see the peak in this most recent surge,” McLelland said. “Our local models indicate that peak is coming soon, sometime near the end of January and start of February. Things are still really bad out there.”
According to McLelland, the vast majority of these cases are from unvaccinated individuals.
“Vaccination is still our best tool to fightback against infection,” McLelland said. “Coupled with masking, even though I know it can be uncomfortable at times, is our best bet at staying safe and healthy. Especially in closed-room settings, it’s more important than ever to be masking.”
With only four ICU beds, the hospital has been at capacity for several months.
“We have six patients waiting in our emergency room right now waiting for ICU beds and there is nothing we can do for them. There simply aren’t enough ICU beds to go around,” McLelland said. “This is a problem every hospital and clinic in our area, even Kansas City, is facing. In Belton, even though I believe they just expanded their number of ICU beds, they are still at capacity with a similar line of patients waiting to either get a bed or get well enough to be discharged home. Many of them aren’t getting better.”
When it comes to masking children, McLelland said the same rules apply.
“The virus does not discriminate,” she said. “Young or old, big or small, it’s important to wear a mask when going out. I’m not a pediatric nurse so I can’t speak to those unique difficulties with getting a young child to comply, but all the same things work – vaccination, social distancing and masks. Even if school families aren’t required to quarantine, we are still advising folks to stay home when they are sick, which is the best way to get this surge turned back in the right direction.”