UPDATE: Since this story was printed in this morning's edition of the J-E, the GRDHD has announced an addition two cases in Webster County.
As the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis continues, information on the virus itself, especially when it comes to its impact on local communities, is often hard to come by. And that only seems to be getting harder as the crisis continues.
When the first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Webster County were reported by the Green River District Health Department (GRDHD), the release included the gender and age of the patient. However, when the third victim tested positive a week later, GRDHD failed to list the gender and age.
That wasn’t an oversight.
“We stopped reporting the age and gender publicly because we had an issue in a small community where that information was used to identify a person who had tested positive,” said Clayton Horton, Public Health Director for GRDHD. “People used that information to start harassing them online.”
GRDHD is also withholding the names of the communities in which the individuals who tested positive live, siting state invasion of privacy laws to block state open record law. An open records request for that information is still pending.
Horton was willing to state that as far as he knows, the four confirmed cases in Webster County are not connected in any way.
“When we get a lab confirmed case, we have a nurse call the patient,” said Horton. “They gather information on their symptoms and where they have been during the last two weeks. Part of that process is trying to get the info on how they were exposed. But with the volume of cases in Webster County being so small, its hard to get a clear picture.”
But he cautions residents to not let the number of confirmed cases fool them.
“From the literature we’re reading, you can multiply the number of confirmed cases by 10 to 50 times to get the actual number of cases in your county,” Horton said. “That’s a big range. If you go by the larger number, that could mean those three tests represent up to 150 actual cases.”
Horton advises residents to always proceed with caution.
“Lab confirmed cases only represent a sample of cases that are in the community,” he said. “Everyone should assume it is in their own back yard, because it could be. And it takes up to two weeks before we know.”
That length of possible time between when an individual contracts the virus and when they show signs is what has made the virus both hard to track and hard to control.
“The cases that we are seeing today were infected up to two to three weeks ago,” Horton said. “The things we are doing today to prevent the virus, we wont see the impact of until two to three weeks from now.”
While he said most infected individuals are showing signs of infection between days six and eight, Horton explained that the virus can take up to 14 days to show itself in an infected person. Getting in to see a doctor, being tested for COVID-19 and getting the results back can take up to another week, leaving a very broad window in which the virus can be spread.
Three weeks ago was March 18. At that point the governor had yet to order churches to close, restaurants were just switching to carry out only, beauty shops had yet to shutdown and schools had only been out for three days.
Anyone an infected person has come into contact with since that date has potentially been exposed to the virus.
The first positive test confirmation in Webster County came on Monday, March 23. By the provided time line, that person could have contracted the virus anywhere from March 2 up to right around March 18.
Anyone that person came into contact with during that time could potentially have caught the virus, and, especially if it were on the end of that window, a positive test result for them could potentially not be confirmed until this week, almost a month later.
“The next two weeks are very critical,” said Horton. “I know people have heard it over and over, but we all have to do our best to maintain social distancing and not congregate in large groups. People need to take that to heart. Its hard to convey that when you just have a few cases.”
Just at press time on Tuesday, the J-E learned of a fourth positive case of COVID-19 in Webster County, a 40 year-old female. In the entire GRDHD region, there have been a total of 96 confirmed cases and two deaths. Two patients have fully recovered.
Reported cases include
Daviess County — 58
Hancock County — 2
Henderson County — 19
McLean County — 4
Ohio County — 6
Webster County — 4
Average age: 52
Age Range: 20-85
Cases by age
1-19 years: 0
20-29 years: 11
30-39 years: 12
40-49 years: 18
50-59 years: 20
60-69 years: 23
70-79 years: 8
80 years +: 4
Contact Matt Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 270-667-2069