The first case of COVID-19 virus in Jasper County has surfaced.

Tony Moehr, the Jasper County Health Department director, said his office received notice at 4:30 p.m. Friday that an international traveler had tested positive for the virus.

Although he could not disclose the identity of the person, he said the person is in his or her 20s and lives in northern Jasper County.

That person traveled to Europe, though Moehr did not know where in Europe. "Luckily, when that individual traveled overseas and then got back to the area, the person self-quarantined so they weren't out in public."

The traveler returned on Monday and started having symptoms on Wednesday "and has remained isolated," Moehr said, notifying health authorities so that a test could be done. State health officials conducted the test.

Though the person has experienced symptoms, he or she was not sick enough to be hospitalized.

The person has had contact only with others in the household and those people also have quarantined themselves, the health director said. The contacts will be quarantined for 14 days.

"The individual will remain in isolation a minimum of seven days, or three days after symptoms subside," Moehr said.

"It appears with this particular case that they did things right," he said. "They knew they were potentially at risk and did self-isolate. It appears things were done correctly so that we should not have a big problem with community spread from that individual.

Health officials will continue to monitor the individual and that person's contacts through the quarantine periods.

Test kits on way

Area residents have expressed concerns on social media about a lack of local testing for the virus.

But more people will soon be tested because Joplin area private laboratories are receiving test kits, and drive-through testing will start next week, said local health care providers on Friday.

"We have plans that will go into effect Monday for our COVID calling center and our off-site testing facility," said Paula Baker, president and CEO of Freeman Health System. She said details of those efforts will be made available on Monday.

Local health officials will explain how people can access the calling center and the drive-thru test.

There have been 10 people who met the criteria for testing at Freeman, Baker said. Three of those tests have been negative and the test results have not come back yet on the other seven. There were 12 people screened who did not meet the criteria to have a test, she said.

At Mercy Hospital Joplin, about 15 people have been tested and results are still out on about a half-dozen of those, spokesman Jordan Larimore said.

There have been no positive results so far in Joplin from the tests that have been processed, said Baker and Ryan Talken, the assistant director of the Joplin Health Department.

Frustration

But still there is upset in the area.

Among the frustrated was Amanda Schwarzenberger, of Carthage, who might have been kept from getting a COVID-19 test because of a broken thermometer.

"They said that when I get a fever of 100.4, call again," Schwarzenberger said. "Then I would go through the questionnaire again."

Schwarzenberger said she is concerned about the number of tests available and the stringency of requirements to get one.

Currently getting either a public or private test starts with a doctor's order, said Dan Pekarek, director of the Joplin Health Department. The tests are limited to those with coughing, shortness of breath and a fever of at least 100.4 degrees.

But before receiving a COVID-19 test, patients must first be tested for influenza A and B.

Recent health issues, and her husband's proximity to someone who has been traveling, have put her on alert, Schwarzenberger said. Between September and November she dealt with a number of lung issues that led to two surgeries and two biopsies. Her husband has a job in Kansas City, where he stays with his brother — who travels internationally for his job. Lately, Schwarzenberger has been working as a personal shopper for an app-based service, sending her to many stores across the region.

At the beginning of this week, she began feeling symptomatic. She said she felt feverish, but was unable to take a reading, because her thermometer was broken. Still, she set up an appointment with her doctor.

While a fever wasn't detected on Thursday during her appointment, the doctor completed the first step: Schwarzenberger tested negative for both flu types. That's when her doctor said she should be tested for COVID-19.

She was given a phone number to call, but she was unable to get through. After multiple calls, she said got an answer, and was asked to answer questions required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of those questions: "What is your temperature?"

Because of the broken thermometer, however, she was unable to confirm a fever of more than 100.4. She was rejected.

Thermometers have been tough to find in town, but her husband found one in Kansas City and is bringing it home, Schwarzenberger said.

She has no issues with the health workers, who are doing their job, she said. But she wishes more tests were available and that a priority was given to those who had orders from their doctor.

"Considering my history of lung issues, my doctor wanted to see me," Schwarzenberger said. "If a doctor says they want you tested, you should be tested. I wish more tests were available."

Testing so far

Testing has been done only in cases that met a set of criteria issued by the CDC because the test kits for the disease were not widely available the last few weeks. When they did become available, the federal government provided a limited number to the states, which distributed them to cities and counties.

But the Joplin Health Department received only five official test kits.

Last week, Joplin's health director, Dan Pekarek, said a set of criteria had to be met for a test to be done.

“The protocols for testing using the state kit are fairly involved,” he said when the tests were first received. “Generally you have to have fever and signs of lower respiratory illness such as cough and/or shortness of breath. If you have traveled to one of the areas of high concern, that’s going to be a factor in the consideration. And also if you have been around someone hospitalized with respiratory illness and they don’t know why, that could qualify for one of those test kits.”

That criteria also was established to prioritize who was tested because there was a limited supply of tests.

"The criteria was built around capacity," Talken said. "It's anticipated that as testing availability increases the criteria will be reduced.

"At first there was a testing issue as far as available labs. Now there is a bottleneck on the supply side for the testing kits. They are working to correct that. We have more testing than we did at the beginning and they anticipate as the supply side gets corrected, it will increase."

Dr. Robert McNab, a board certified internal medicine physician at Freeman who is the hospital's vice president of medical education, was asked if there could be people contaminated with the virus who are as yet unknown because of the low number of test kits available so far.

"Right now, we are having to balance out some needs,and the pinch point for us is the number of tests available," McNab said. "We have a finite supply, and we know that supply is going to increase over the weeks. It's a known issue. There are a number of companies and government resources that are going to be able to provide us with a much larger number of tests. So that supply is going to go up.

"But that does not really help us today when the question is, what can you do with a finite amount of testing? When you only have a limited amount of tests, the right strategy is to only test the highest risk people. If I had an infinite number of tests, I would test everybody, but I don't, and so we can't. So we really need to be very careful who we test so we have those tests for people who are at the very highest risk."

"Not having a test does not change the outcome as far as treatment goes," he said. "Not everybody needs a test. A test is still recommended for people who have the more severe type of symptoms."

McNab said a good way to prevent becoming ill from it is to pay extra attention to hygiene.

"When you have this virus, it gets out of your body from secretions when you sneeze, cough and to a limited extent in urine and stool."

Another way to transmit the virus is to pick up and eat food with hands contaminated by the virus.

Joe Hadsall is the digital editor for The Joplin Globe. He has been the editor of the former Nixa News-Enterprise and has worked for the Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine.

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