Rural county health departments worry about increasing COVID-19 cases

Posted at 6:07 PM, Oct 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-14 19:20:42-04

JOHNSON COUNTY, Mo. — Rural communities are feeling the harsh impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as the virus' spread increases.

As of Wednesday, there were 377 active COVID-19 cases in Johnson County, Missouri, with nearly 1,500 cases total since the beginning of the pandemic.

Johnson County Community Health Services is concerned over the spread, so it reinstated the mask mandate policy.

"Unfortunately as time went on, people became relaxed with the wearing of the masks. We weren’t seeing it as often as we had when the mandate was in place," said Kerri Lewis, community outreach coordinator at Johnson County Community Health Services.

On Wednesday, 41 Action News got an inside look at nurses making calls patients who tested positive for COVID-19. They're working around the clock to slow the spread of the virus.

RELATED | 41 Action News COVID-19 case tracker

"As our numbers continue to increase that puts more of a workload of that aspect of contract tracing with the few people that we have," Lewis said.

The only hospital in the area, Western Missouri Medical Center, can hold eight to 10 ICU patients at one time. County officials' biggest fear is running out of hospital space.

"What do we do if we get to that point where capacity is reached its max and then we have to start sending patients outside of Johnson County?" Lewis said.

People who live in Warrensburg told 41 Action News the long-lasting pandemic is taking its toll.

"I think people are so tired of it, but I feel like we’ve got to protect each other," Wendy Bernier, a Warrensburg resident, said.

That's why the county said it re-issued its mask mandate — to help slow the community spread of the virus.

"I noticed some people were not wearing them but now the mandate is back and so you have to. So just follow the rules," Bernier said.

The pandemic is putting stress on rural health centers hoping for an effective vaccine.

"That’s our ultimate goal, is getting back to a more normal way of life in the safest way possible," Lewis said.