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Coronavirus

Boone County helping fuel fast rise in Missouri COVID-19 cases

National Guard at test site
ABC 17 News
National Guard and other vehicles sit on the Hickman High School parking lot during community COVID-19 testing Tuesday, June 2, 2020.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)

Boone County is one of a few areas of the state driving a record increase in the number of COVID-19 cases statewide, the state health director said Thursday.

Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said at Gov. Mike Parson's regular COVID-19 briefing that the St. Louis and Kansas City areas and Jasper County in southwest Missouri are also driving the increase.

Watch a replay of the briefing in the player below.

Missouri logged 795 new cases Thursday, setting the daily case record for the second time in the last three days. Boone County set a record Wednesday with 51 cases and has added more than 100 cases in just three days to surpass 600.

Williams, who said the upward trend in cases is troubling, said the trend is much like that seen in the early days of the pandemic, when major metropolitan areas were hit hard. The difference is that now many of the new cases are in young people.

"In Boone, we're seeing situations where one person is congregating, often recreationally, and they are infecting eight people," Williams said. He said he had talked with local health officials shortly before Parson's briefing.

"That explains the numbers you’re seeing, it’s community transmission of young people, getting six or seven people infected," Williams said. The lack of transmission in older, more vulnerable populations is encouraging, he said, but the sheer number of cases will translate into more serious illness.

The seven-day rolling average positive rate of people tested for COVID-19 is holding at about 4 percent, Williams said. However, if new case numbers continue on their current pace, that number will grow, he said.

Cases increased about 19 percent over the last week in the state's central region, according to state analytics.

Williams said the state is "clearly" seeing that young people are not practicing social distancing or wearing masks. He demonstrated mask use by putting on his Kansas City Chiefs mask, encouraging young people to wear them and make them a fashion item.

“Be creative, but we need you to wear a mask if you’re not going to social distance," Williams said. "And we need you to use social distance more than anything, and handwashing.”

Guidance for K-12; money for higher education

The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education issued guidance Thursday for schools to reopen their classrooms in the fall.

"We are confident that if the schools implement this guidance, they can safely reopen this fall," Parson said.

Missouri Higher Education Commissioner Zora Mulligan announced $125 million for higher education and workforce development from the CARES Act.

Most of that money -- $80 million -- will go to helping public colleges and universities reopen amid the pandemic, paying for items such as personal protective equipment and social distancing barriers.

Another $10 million will go to higher education to expand their remote learning capacity and another $23 million will go to helping pay faculty and staff.

Mulligan said higher education leaders understand the importance of bringing students back to campuses and encouraged students not to take a semester or year off, as some have contemplated during the pandemic.

CARES funding to help contact tracing

State leaders also said Thursday that they have created an online tool on the Department of Health and Senior Services website to help local governments determine how to spend federal CARES Act funding.

Local governments can use some of their funds to help pay for contact tracing, Williams said.

Many local health departments, including the one in Columbia and Boone County, have said their contract tracers are overwhelmed, causing delays in getting in touch with people who have been exposed to positive COVID-19 cases.

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Matthew Sanders

Matthew Sanders is the digital content director at ABC 17 News.

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