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The Jefferson County Health Department has reported 12 more COVID-19-related deaths, bringing the total number of deaths in the county to 78.

Eleven of those deaths occurred over the past few weeks and one death is from April, the Health Department said in a written statement.

“We are truly disheartened to see additional COVID-19 deaths in our community,” Jefferson County Health Department Director Kelley Vollmar said. “Our condolences go out to their family and friends and to all those who have lost a loved one during this time.”

Of the 12 deaths reported today (Oct. 23), six are from long-term care facilities, for a total of 54 deaths at county long-term care facilities, according to the Health Department.

The 12 deaths include a woman in her 30s, a woman in her 50s, two men in their 60s, four women in their 70s, three men in their 70s and a man in his 80s.

The woman in her 30s is the youngest COVID-19-related death reported in the county since the pandemic began.

The Health Department said the reason it took longer than usual to report the latest deaths was because of a change the state has implemented.

Vollmar said in the past, the Health Department was allowed to look at death certificates on a daily basis to see if any county residents had died from COVID-19, and if so, the death was reported right away.

Now, however, the Health Department doesn’t have the same access to those death certificates and has to wait for the state to review them on a weekly basis and then forward the information to the Health Department.

As far as the death in April, new information was received about the patient, and the death was just recently categorized as a COVID-19-related one, the Health Department reported.

Health Department officials strongly encourage residents to take preventive measures to avoid contracting and spreading the virus, including frequent hand washing, avoiding crowds, maintaining physical distance from others, wearing a mask and staying home if you are sick.

“We urge the community to unite for the greater good and support each other as we work together to reduce the impact of COVID-19,” Vollmar said.

County COVID-19 stats

The Health Department reported 137 more COVID-19 cases since Tuesday (Oct. 21).

That brings the total number of cases in the county to 5,818 since the first ones were reported in March.

Those cases are through midnight Thursday (Oct. 22), according to the Health Department.

Of those cases, 767 cases are active ones, which includes lab-confirmed cases and probable cases, which are still under investigation and have not been released from either quarantine or isolation, the Health Department reported.

Of the 5,818 cases in the county, 5,367 are lab confirmed and 451 are probable cases. A case is considered probable when a person has been exposed to a positive case and is exhibiting symptoms, the Health Department reported.

A total of 1,001 people currently is in quarantine, which means a person has a confirmed exposure to the virus and is in the process of completing a 14-day quarantine period.

Of the county’s total coronavirus cases, 665 have been at long-term care facilities, which includes residents and staff members who live in Jefferson County.

The county has had at least 20 COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities, according to the Health Department.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) defines an outbreak as one or more residents testing positive for the virus or one or more staff members who have worked within a facility in the 14 days before testing positive.

Contact tracing contract

The Health Department Board of Trustees voted 4-1 Thursday (Oct. 22) to enter into a contract with Maximus Federal Service Inc. to provide COVID-19 contact tracing.

Vollmar said the contract is for up to $1.63 million, but she believes the cost will be lower than that because the cost was estimated for three months of work, but the company will probably only provide the service for two months.

She also said the cost will be covered with CARES Act funds, which have to be spent by the end of the year.

Board member Suzy Davis cast the only no vote on the contract, which lasts through Dec. 31.

Davis said she had concerns about the cost of the contract.

She also said she wasn’t sure additional contact tracers were needed.

“Do we really need to do this?” she asked.

Board chairman Dennis Diehl said the service is needed.

“It’s basic public health,” he said.

Vollmar said out of about 80 employees at the Health Department, about 66 of them have been contact tracing.

She said hiring the contact tracing company will help staff return to normal duties.

Vollmar said it will take two weeks for contact tracers to be hired and they will work remotely.

Davis also questioned COVID-19 data Vollmar has presented.

Davis said the Health Department had previously reported that the county had been at the red zone on the White House Pandemic Task Force COVID-19 warning system for a period, but she said that’s wrong.

“We’ve never been in the red,” Davis said.

However, according to a Missouri state report from the White House Pandemic Task Force (WHPTF), Jefferson County was in the red level two times.

A Sept. 27 report had the county in the red, and the latest report, from Oct. 18, had the county in the red again.

Also during the meeting, Vollmar presented an article from a local newspaper that said there are concerns about overtaxed health care workers because of COVID-19.

“They are at a point where they are able to keep up, but they are starting to be stretched,” she said.

Davis said she does not believe hospitals are seeing many new cases.

Color status

On Wednesday (Oct. 21), the Health Department reported the county will stay in the orange status on its COVID-19 warning system for a third week.

The orange level is the second highest level on the four-color system and indicates widespread but controlled transmission of the virus.

“Our community transmission, represented by the color status directly impacts our ability to rebuild in the wake of COVID,” Vollmar said. “Every resident can be a part of the solution by washing their hands, covering their cough, wearing a mask when they can’t physically distance and staying home when they are sick. By working together to intentionally reduce the level of virus in the community, we support the greater positive good for recovery of our businesses, schools, churches and long-term care facilities.”

An orange color status means over the previous week, the county, which has a population of about 225,000 people, had a rolling average of 10 to 24 new COVID-19 cases per day per 100,000 residents.

For the week of Oct. 11 to 17, the county has a seven-day rolling average of 21.97.

If the county has a rolling average of 25 or more cases per day per 100,000 residents it is moved into the highest level, which is the red level.

The Health Department uses the Harvard Global Health Institute four-color system to indicate community transmission level.

According to the Health Department, the WHPTF recently revised its color system, changing from three colors to five colors – light green, dark green, yellow, orange and red.

To be in the red zone on the WHPTF system, a county must have 101 or more new cases per 100,000 people in the past week and a COVID-19 positive test rate at or above 10.1 percent.

For the week that ended Oct. 17 (the latest data available), the county had 346 new COVID-19 cases, and its positive test rate was 11.8 percent, which was up from the week before.