COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Columbia and Boone County leaders are keeping an eye on COVID-19 numbers to decide what restrictions need to be in place in order to keep people safe.
Monday night, the Columbia City Council heard an update from staff with the Columbia/Boone County Health Department on the status of the virus.
Watch the presentation replay
The Columbia/Boone County Health Department extended the current health order Friday for another three weeks, meaning it will expire on Dec. 8.
The decision came as hospitalizations have continuously increased and Boone Hospital Center warned of an increase in patients. Local hospitals announced they would begin surge plans in order to continue providing care.
Cases have passed 8,000 in Boone County and the county reached a record 222 new cases reported on Nov. 5.
Scott Clardy, assistant director of the Columbia/Boone County Health Department, said leaders did discuss tighter restrictions, but they wanted to avoid them if possible. He noted the financial impact tighter restrictions earlier in the year had on businesses.
"We appealed to the community basically saying, 'Here's a three week extension. We've got to get these cases under control, but we can't do it by ourselves,'" Clardy said.
He also said the staff looked at the fact University of Missouri students are not coming back after Thanksgiving. Clardy said that could assist in lowering virus transmission.
Columbia Mayor Brian Treece also pointed out MU students would not be returning to campus. He also said the current trends suggest are becoming unmanageable.
"I thought it was important to give the community opportunity to mask up and see what we can do as an advisory before we begin turning that dial back on gatherings and some other things that we all look forward to," Treece said.
Stephanie Browning, director of the health department, said staff is having trouble contact tracing in a timely manner. For that reason, the department will be changing the way they reach out to people who need to quarantine.
Staff will begin working to reach out to the most recent close cases because by the time they reach out to older cases those people are typically almost done with their quarantine period.
Browning said the health department has 676 cases unassigned at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, and disease investigators can handle around 80 cases per day.
For the older cases, they are not able to reach out to on that day, staff will send out a packet with information on what they need to know.
Browning said where numbers are at, transmission of the virus is happening wherever people are gathering, whether that be in their homes, restaurants, bars or more.
Clardy said if numbers continue to rise in the next three weeks the department will look at tightening restrictions on several things first.
"I would say some of the things that we would be looking at would be occupancy restrictions on facilities. I think we could be looking at operating hour restrictions, and I think we could be restricting gatherings," he said.
Clardy said a stay-at-home order where people would only be allowed to leave their homes for essentials items would be a last resort, but it still would not stop all numbers from climbing.
"Even if we did a stay at home order and we got down to like what we were seeing back in April where, you know, we weren't seeing very many cases at all, as soon as we would start opening it up again we'd start seeing cases again unless we built a wall around Boone County and nobody went in or went out," Clardy said.
Treece said he believes the current order could still work.
"I'm optimistic and I want to make sure that we get through this wave just like we've gotten through the other wave, but the reality is we have lost all the ground we gained in the spring, in the summer when students returned and we need to get that back," he said.