Joplin health officials are warning residents to take precautions as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise.
"Over the last three weeks or so, we've seen an upward trend in the number of cases on a daily basis," said Dan Pekarek, assistant city manager and acting director of the Joplin Health Department. "It probably started going up more significantly in the last five or six days."
As of Tuesday, the city of Joplin was reporting 814 total confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, including 132 active cases. The number of active cases spiked at 161 in the city on Saturday. There also were 274 active quarantines, or people who are identified as being close contacts of COVID-19 cases.
"Some of it is associated with the reopening of schools; we knew that was going to happen in some fashion," said Pekarek, referencing the return to local colleges and universities on Aug. 17, and the Joplin School District on Aug. 24. "But there are an awful lot of (cases) where we just don't know where the cases are coming from. In those cases without an identifiable source, we have to assume that's just community transmission."
Pekarek said the highest number of infections is occurring in the 20- to 29-year-old age category, followed by the 30- to 39-year-old category.
Hospitalizations of Joplin residents for COVID-19 jumped to 11 on Tuesday, although Pekarek said that could be because the city now includes Landmark Hospital as well as Freeman and Mercy hospitals in that roundup.
Total hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients at the three hospitals stood at 46 on Tuesday.
The Joplin metropolitan area is poised to surpass 4,000 total COVID-19 cases this week. As of Tuesday morning, total counts stood at 1,945 for Jasper County, 1,181 for Newton County and 811 for the city of Joplin. Jasper County remains in the state's top 10 counties in terms of total COVID-19 cases.
"We had a period in mid- to late July through early August where our case numbers had dropped fairly significantly, and since about the second week of August, we've seen an upward trend in our case reports," said Tony Moehr, director of the Jasper County Health Department. "I think so far the only thing we can really attribute it to is community spread."
The region crossing the 4,000-case count would come less than three weeks after the metro area topped 3,000 cases, which occurred around Aug. 20. The region topped 2,000 cases around July 15 and reached its first 1,000 cases on June 28.
Total deaths from COVID-19 in the metro area include 23 in Jasper County and 18 in Newton County, in addition to the 21 reported in Joplin, all from Spring River Christian Village.
Pekarek said he can't predict whether the region will continue its current trend.
"I just don't know what's going to (happen) after we get into the schools for a period of time," he said. "Are we going to level out, or are we going to continue at an upward trajectory? I just don't have an answer for that."
He urged residents to maintain social distancing, wear masks, and frequently wash their hands and use hand sanitizer.
"Until we get a vaccine, those are really the only things we can do that will slow the progression of this," he said.
Moehr echoed those guidelines, saying that the "best option" is for residents to do "the same things we've been preaching" since the pandemic began in March.
"I think a lot of people have fatigue in hearing that, but that's really the best thing we can do, and if we can all do it as diligently as possible, I think we can reduce that spread," he said.
Meanwhile, Missouri on Tuesday added another 773 COVID-19 cases to its count for a total of 95,113. There also were two additional deaths, bringing the count to 1,661.
Missouri's seven-day positivity rate continues to trend upward, from 12.1% to the current 13.8% in less than two weeks. The state now has the fifth-highest seven-day rolling average of daily new reported cases per capita, trailing only North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Guam, according to data from The Washington Post.
More cases are being seen in younger people, as the average age of a COVID-19 patient in Missouri is 42, and the average age of a COVID-19 patient in the state in just the past seven days is 38, according to state data. Infections are occurring in greater numbers in people ages 10-29 than in any other age range.
But deaths are overwhelmingly occurring among residents who are 70 and older, according to state data.