Dent County Health Center sent a press release Nov. 19 regarding increasing numbers of COVID-19 in our county and area. Other health departments in the area are moving towards a similar strategy, as cases continue to rapidly increase.

“Based on the rate of community transmission and the delay in reporting that we are experiencing, we (health center) have been forced to shift our focus. In the coming days and weeks, we will focus on increasing community awareness of mitigation strategies and prepare for vaccine distribution. This decision does not negate the importance of isolation and quarantine, these are still crucial mitigation strategies. Which is why we're asking every Dent County resident to take a personal responsibility for their part in reducing the spread. If you test positive or are in close contact with a positive, please quarantine,” said Health Center Director Kendra Mobray in an interview after the release.

The release in full states:

As COVID-19 testing expands and cases increase across the state, health departments are struggling to keep up with contact tracing. Delay in contact tracing has resulted from a variety of factors:

• it may take several days for local health department to receive positive results;

• not all lab results are received;

• not all lab results have the correct contact information and many do not have contact information at all;

• many people avoid answering the phone or do not give complete information;

• an increasing number of positive cases are declining to disclose their direct contacts and instead report that they will notify their contacts on their own;

• an increasing number of contacts believe they are incorrectly being named as direct contacts by cases and would rather be contacted by the person they know than a public health professional;

Health Departments across our region have worked tirelessly to contact each and every positive case as well as all close contacts. However, cases continue to rise. With widespread community transmission of COVID-19, contact tracing has shown to be ineffective in determining where a case may have been exposed to COVID-19 or who all they have exposed themselves during their communicable period. After exploring expedited contact tracing and community mitigation strategies, the Dent County Health Center, in conjunction with the other area health departments, are shifting to a modified approach to contact tracing which will allow positive cases to immediately notify their contacts as soon as they receive positive lab results.

Moving forward, individuals do not need to wait for instructions or information from their respective health department. Those that are positive for COVID-19 should refer to the ‘COVID Patient Guidance Tool’ that can be found on Dent County Health Center’s Facebook Page, The Salem News website (thesalemnewsonline.com), Salem Memorial District Hospital’s website, and/or an e-mailed copy can be requested by calling Dent County Health Center.

Given the rapidly increasing cases of COVID-19 on a daily basis, the health department will also be prioritizing case investigation to our vulnerable populations. All positive cases will be expected to notify their contacts. This will eliminate the wait time and hopefully, stop people from unknowingly spreading the virus. We are also hopeful that people will feel more comfortable telling their contacts about their positive result versus a stranger on the phone.

Dent County Health Center will continue to assist places where outbreaks are more likely to occur, such as: schools, businesses and long-term care facilities. Local schools will continue to contact trace; identified close contacts will be quarantined. There may still be situations when the health department directly reaches out to contacts.

Dent County Health Center will no longer be calling close contacts of positive cases. We will focus efforts on case investigations and household contact quarantine. If you get a call from your doctor with a positive result, you need to take immediate action to slow the spread of the virus within your friends, family and coworkers by following the outlined steps in the ‘COVID Patient Guidance Tool’ handout. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE TOOL. Please DO NOT wait for a call from the health department to implement your own contact tracing.

You will need to notify everyone with whom you have had close contact. A close contact is anyone that you were within 6 feet of for at least 15 minutes starting 2 days prior to becoming symptomatic, regardless of face coverings. If you had to do that today, how many people would that be?

Please take action now to reduce that number on a daily basis. Keeping your distance from those outside of your household is important in limiting the spread of COVID-19.

The Dent County Health Center has observed clusters of positive cases at office buildings, group gatherings and long-term care facilities. We have also seen numerous cases from household exposures to a known case.

We are urging everyone to continue to take responsibility for their own health and to protect others. Please reconsider hosting or attending gatherings that bring together people that are outside of your normal interactions, especially if physical distancing cannot be maintained. These activities are high risk for transmission of the virus. Please adhere to physical distancing recommendations and limit contact with others outside of your household.

In addition to limiting social interactions, the Dent County Health Center is still strongly recommending that everyone take precautionary measures to reduce the spread of the virus.

• Stay home if you are sick.

• Adhere to all social distancing recommendations and do not be within six (6) feet of others outside of your household for more than fifteen (15) minutes.

• Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating. If not available, use hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

• It is recommended that face coverings be worn when in contact with someone outside of your household within six (6) feet for more than 15 minutes. Cloth face coverings offer some degree of protection against large infectious droplets, such as mucus or saliva, when speaking, sneezing, or coughing. This particularly protects those around the person wearing the face covering. It also helps those who are unknowingly infectious from spreading it to others.

Cloth face coverings are not considered an acceptable substitute for social distancing. Interactions within six (6) feet of a positive case for more than fifteen (15) minutes will be considered exposure regardless if either person is wearing a cloth face covering. Cloth face coverings should be washed after each use. Cloth face coverings should be replaced frequently as consistent washing will degrade the fabric and decrease the effectiveness.

It is important to always remove face coverings correctly and wash your hands after handling or touching a used face covering. For more information, visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html

As this situation changes, the Dent County Health Center will be posting additional information on our Facebook page on a regular basis. If you have questions, please consult a factual source, such as http://www.CDC.gov or www.health.mo.gov/coronavirus. The community can also call Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services hotline (877) 435-8411 to address questions or concerns related to COVID-19.