New cases dropped following mask order, but now inching up

By Adam Strunk

The Harvey County Commission approved a mask order for the county on July 15 in the face of growing COVID-19 cases, in order to keep residents healthy, businesses open and eventually get kids back in school.

With nearly a month of data and the order being extended by the commission until Sept. 15, Health Director Lynette Redington was asked at a Tuesday press conference if the order is working.

“It may be too early to tell,” she said. “We also have some big events that have happened that we’re waiting to see if we get more cases from or any cases, I should say. I’m really glad the commission will do another 30 days.”

What the numbers show is that following the order, the weekly average of new cases per day declined.

Weekly averages of new case numbers per day had increased from 1.7 cases on July 7 to 6.4 cases by July 17. Then, they began to drop and did so until bottoming out on July 29 at 1.42 cases per day. Since then, weekly averages have increased to about five new cases per day.

Redington attributed the increasing numbers to more and more spread occurring within family units.

“We’re looking at families and that has been where we’ve been targeting with how our numbers crept up. You turn around and it’s a family member and another family member. We have some very large families in Harvey County,” she said.
She said during the mask order, the county had seen community spread – spread with no identifiable origin – decrease.

“The unknown spread is decreasing quite a bit, but it’s been much more family spread. It’s easy to spread.”

On July 10, when the county said community spread was occurring, 29 percent of cases were of unknown origin. On Aug 11, the county attributed 6.7 percent of cases to community spread. It, however, classified 23 percent of cases as still “under investigation.”

Redington said she does believe people in the community are doing a good job wearing their masks.

“We have definitely seen a lot more individuals wearing them, personally, out to stores or at different venues,” she said. “Folks are taking it a little more seriously. I encourage that.”
Public Health Officer Doyle Detweiler echoed that sentiment in a statement made following the county commission meeting.
“We really appreciate everyone that is doing their part to promote community public health by wearing a face mask,” Detweiler said. “Along with social distancing and good hand hygiene, face masks are an important preventative measure. We have to do these steps to keep schools and businesses open and moving forward.”

According to the Harvey County government, under the new order, there remain exceptions in the order for wearing a face mask, such as children 5-years-old and younger, individuals that are deaf or hard of hearing and individuals with a medical condition, mental health condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a face cover.

Face masks continue to be required inside county government facilities.

The commission also voted to remain in the Phase Out guidance of the Harvey County Health Reopening Plan. The plan does not restrict mass gathering limit size. However, social distancing continues to be encouraged.

The Harvey County Health Department has recorded 210 COVID-19 cases to date. There are 34 known active cases. More data on Harvey County cases can be found at www.harveycounty.com/covid19stats.

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