Local health officials say increased testing not solely responsible for increased COVID-19 cases

Joplin Health Director Address City Council

Joplin’s community health director is debunking a theory about the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Southwest Missouri.

Community Health Director Dan Pekarek let the Joplin city council know Wednesday night that while the increase in local positive Coronavirus cases is tied to increased testing in the region, he says that’s not the sole reason for the rise.

“From the beginning of June to the 24th which is the time period we were looking at in the data, our tests increased in the metro area, Jasper and Newton counties including Joplin. They increased 74%. In the same time frame, our positive cases went up over 650%,” said Pekarek.

Pekarek says a 74% increase in testing should have resulted in a 74% increase in positive cases, if increased testing was the sole cause of rising local COVID-19 cases.

As for the recent spike in Coronavirus cases, the infection prevention manager at Joplin’s Freeman Hospital points to the loosening of lockdown restrictions.

“We had that open availability and resources in May, and so we tested exponentially more in May. We just did not have the positives in May because we still had Phase 1 that we were implementing, and we hadn’t resumed a lot of our social gatherings and normal processes,” said Infection Prevention Manager Jessica Liberty.

The mask ordinance may not have been approved by the Joplin city council, but officials at the Joplin Health Department and Freeman Hospital are still encouraging 4-Staters to wear masks, and dismissing rumors that they’re ineffective at slowing COVID-19’s spread.

“People need to do their research. They need to realize that the Coronavirus is spread through droplet transmission, and when you cough, sneeze, or talk, you produce droplets. So when you contain those droplets, you contain the virus. It’s very simple science and the CDC is very open with that. And so I think that people just need to actually read instead of just getting on social media and reading people’s emotionally charged responses,” said Liberty.

And Joplin’s community health director is also telling people to exercise caution at family gatherings as a way to blunt the COVID-19 spike.

“Spread within family get togethers, family and friend get togethers. Somebody who was symptomatic still went to a family get together and the next thing we know, we’ve now got 3 or 4 other individuals sick from that event,” said Pekarek, who is currently wary of parties with friends and family because he believes attendees are unlikely to wear masks.