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What is community transmission of COVID-19? Health officials explain why social distancing can stop it

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

When looking at the number of cases of COVID-19 in specific areas, health departments list three main ways the patient caught the virus: travel-related, contact with a confirmed case and community transmission.

Chezney Schulte, the communicable disease coordinator for the Cole County Public Health Department, broke down the three categories for ABC 17 News:

  • Travel-related: A patient who has had a history of travel within the past 14 days and then becomes symptomatic
  • Close contact (or contact with positive cases): The patient can identify a positive case which they have been exposed to in the past 14 days. Typically family or household members of a person with COVID-19.
  • Community transmission: Neither of the above categories fit and the patient cannot think of any potential exposure.

"You are racking your brain thinking, I must have gotten it out in the community by going about my day-to-day life," Schulte said about identifying community spread. "I just don't have that person I can pinpoint it down to where I would have gotten it."

As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, Boone County had 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those cases, 14 were travel-related, two were from contact with a confirmed case, three were from community transmission and one is still being investigated.

Cole County had five confirmed cases. Of those, four were deemed travel-related and the other was contracted through contact with confirmed cases.

Schulte said the type of spread is identified through the contact investigation with each patient, where health officials ask about travel, who they have been in contact with and the patient's day-to-day life.

She said community transmission is a risk to the public during the COVID-19 outbreak because the virus travels through droplets and can be easily transmitted from person to person without knowledge.

As Columbia and Boone County followed many other communities across the country ordering residents to stay at home, Schulte said following those guidelines from officials can stop the spread.

"If someone has the virus, and doesn't have any close contact with anyone else, the virus ends with them," Schulte said. "Whereas if that person is still out in the community or if we're just having a lot of pass off between people in our community, that virus is just going to continue spreading."

Schulte thinks a lot of people are not taking the guidance and orders seriously because they don't define themselves as high-risk for the virus, believing they may not be old enough or have any pre-existing medical conditions.

She says based on other areas in the country, there have been cases of younger patients with severe symptoms of COVID-19.

St. Louis officials said a woman in her 30s died there from COVID-19 on Monday.

"Even if you are lucky enough to be young and healthy and don't have a serious complication, it doesn't mean you won't expose someone in the community or in your family that would have a serious complication of COVID-19, whether that be a hospitalization or death," Schulte said.

"It's just a huge ripple effect that really quickly and drastically changes our numbers," Schulte said. "If that one person who is positive isolates by themselves and all the people who could have potentially been in contact stayed home, they're not going to come in contact and then we've saved so many people from exposure to the virus."

Schulte said the Cole County Health Department has been in contact with city leaders and other health departments as it considers a potential stay-at-home order.

"If the virus can't reach you, you're not going to become infected with the virus," Schulte said.

Check back for more or watch ABC 17 News at 5 and 6 for a full report.

Boone / Cole / Columbia / Health / News / Top Stories

Connor Hirsch

Connor Hirsch reports for the weekday night shows, as well as Sunday nights.

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