Whether it’s a high percentage of people masking and social distancing or the lack of nationwide holiday gatherings, the number of COVID-19 patients at both regional hospitals continues to drop.

Fourteen COVID-19 patients were receiving treatment at Freeman Health System as of Friday morning — seven in the more intensive COVID-19 unit located on the hospital’s second floor and seven in the recently established COVID-19 medical unit one floor below, according to Paula Baker, president and CEO.

That number has fallen by nine in the past seven days, she said. On July 24, hospital staff were caring for 23 patients.

“That’s certainly an improvement,” Baker said during Friday’s weekly coronavirus update. “We were up to 32 not too long ago, so those numbers are coming down, which is what we want to see.”

Mercy Hospital Joplin officials were reporting 13 COVID-19 patients. That’s down from last Friday’s total of 16 patients.

“We’ve seen a steady and continuous decline over the (past) three weeks,” added Dr. Rob McNab, medical director of Freeman’s COVID-19 unit and primary caregiver for the hospital’s coronavirus patients. “Keep in mind that our high-water mark was in the low 30s before (Joplin’s) mask mandate” went into effect in mid-July. “Now, we’ve consistently trickled down and have been in the 14 range for most of this week, which has been absolutely wonderful.”

Added Baker: “If everyone continues to put all the proper measures in place — masks, social distancing, staying away from people that are sick; all of the things that we know work — then we’ll continue to flatten the curve and get through this.”

Other key information made during the briefing includes:

• By having fewer COVID-19 patients needing treatment in those units, it eases the overall resource strain throughout the hospital, McNab said. For example, the lower COVID-19 numbers allow hospital officials to access its stock of 300 rapid COVID-19 testing kits, leading to more public testing. “That’s a wonderful place to find yourself,” McNab said.

• Freeman hasn’t transferred a single COVID-19 patient to another facility in more than a month, McNab said — another encouraging sign.

• Despite what people might be hearing or reading via social media or national news outlets, McNab said that from a health care perspective, he believes Freeman and other hospitals are in a much better and stronger position in the fight against the virus than they were in early March.

“Exponentially,” McNab said. “We know so much more about this virus. For example, the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recently changed their guidelines regarding how long people are infectious. ... As it turns out, most people who are COVID-positive are really only infectious for 10 days, regardless if they are shedding viral particles or not. I think that’s a good example of just how much more we know today than we knew in March, and I think the fear of the unknown (back then) was the worst part. I feel like we know a lot more about it, we have so many more tools, we’ve got two units to take care of these people, we have multiple avenues of testing, we have multiple avenues of treatment — we didn’t have any of that back in March."