The Joplin area has emerged as the country's No. 1 hotspot for the rate of COVID-19 growth over the past seven days, according to the Dartmouth Atlas of Healthcare Project.

The ranking comes as the area has its first outbreak in a nursing home. Spring River Christian Village in Joplin on Friday reported 31 positive COVID-19 cases following widespread testing.

The Dartmouth Atlas of Healthcare Project bases its analysis on what it calls "the natural markets where residents of the United States receive their care," and breaks the country into 306 hospital referral regions. County case and death rates are aggregated to each of those regions. The project reports population-based rates of reported COVID-19 cases, population-based rates of reported deaths from COVID-19 and average growth rates in reported cases over the prior week.

Joplin ranked first in the nation for average daily growth rate of COVID-19 cases for the past seven days, according to the Dartmouth project, which showed an 11.9% growth rate for the region.

The Joplin hospital referral region includes parts of Southeast Kansas, Southwest Missouri to the Arkansas line, and parts of Northeast Oklahoma.

As of Friday, the Joplin Health Department and the Jasper and Newton county health departments were reporting a combined 511 cases, and McDonald County was reporting 226 cases. Crawford County, Kansas, also has seen sharp increases recently, with 167 cases as of Friday.

Spring River

Ray Dickison, chief operating officer for Christian Horizons, told the Globe in an interview that they have identified 22 residents and nine employees who tested positive at Spring River Christian Village, 201 Northpark Lane. Spring River Christian Village is part of the nonprofit Christian Horizons family.

"The overwhelming number of cases were asymptomatic," he said.

The company reported a positive case in an employee earlier this week, and "as a result of that we did widespread testing," Dickison said.

"We are certainly following all the CDC (federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines and any state guidance," he added.

The company said it also has notified residents, family members, associates and local public health officials as required.

"Christian Horizons is doing everything we can to ensure we stop the spread of this within our communities," Dickison said in a statement. "We are in close communication with the local and state health officials to ensure we are taking the appropriate steps currently. We have now expanded our dedicated units for infection prevention, initiated dedicated staff with enhanced training in COVID caregiving, enhanced cleaning protocols and management of personal protective equipment and supplies. We have advanced clinical team support with 24/7 telehealth monitoring capabilities for immediate assessment and management of treatment interventions."

Dickison said the skilled nursing center has also has maintained the "strict no-visit policy, only essential (personnel)" since it was required earlier this spring.

"We continue to enforce the recommended preventative actions such as visitor restriction, associate screening, social distancing, eliminating all group activities, eliminating all group dining, and implementing all infection control prevention and precautions," the company said in a statement. "We will continue to stay committed to ongoing testing of our residents and associates."

Andy Ostmeyer is the metro editor at the Globe. His email address is aostmeyer@joplinglobe.com.

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