A cluster of COVID-19 cases in Carthage has caused local health departments to seek volunteer interpreters to try to better communicate with Spanish-speaking residents about the virus and precautions that need to be taken to try to reduce the spread.

Active cases being handled by the Jasper County Health Department at Carthage rose from 181 Wednesday to 210 Thursday. The department said in a statement it posted Thursday night on Facebook that several people are hospitalized, although the department did not give a specific number.

Also mounting is the number of people who have been placed in quarantine because they are contacts of those who have become infected. That number increased by 79, from 686 to 765, according to a statement posted by the department on its Facebook page.

The new cases bring the total reported to the department since the outbreak began here in March to 259. That is up from 74 a week ago.

Health directors found that non-English-speaking residents who were calling the department for information did not understand the need to take social distancing precautions and do other things that health officials have been recommending to try to prevent infections, said Tony Moehr, director of the department.

Because of that, the Jasper County department and other departments have recruited interpreters who could help field phone calls and better communicate the steps recommended to reduce exposure, Moehr said.

"We put out a request for some interpreters that would be willing to volunteer some time," said Ryan Talken, assistant director of the Joplin Health Department. "We had a good response from that. We are working toward getting some contracted people in place" at the local health departments.

Joplin reported 12 new positive cases Thursday, bringing the current number of active cases of the virus in the city to 20. The city has now had 56 cases since the outbreak started in March.

Of the 12, 10 are adults and two are children, the city reported in a statement. Eight of the cases were community acquired, and three are contacts of a known positive case. The cause of the 12th case is still under investigation, the city said.

Newton County reported a second death from the virus earlier this week. Its totals since the start of the outbreak increased from 77 a week ago to 116 in its most recent report Wednesday. Of those, 70 are current active cases in isolation. There are 209 contacts in quarantine, the department reported.

On Thursday, 15 COVID-19 patients were in Joplin hospitals.

There were nine at Freeman Hospital along with two who were showing symptoms but have yet tested positive, a hospital spokesman said.

Mercy had six inpatients on Thursday.

The health directors said they do not need more volunteers at this time.

Moehr encouraged all residents to "please pay attention" to recommendations such as social distancing and wearing a mask in public. "It's not going to get better if people don't do these things," he said.

Other recommended precautions are to:

• Wash hands often with soap and water. If not available, use hand sanitizer.

• Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

• Avoid contact with people who are sick.

• Stay home while sick and avoid close contact with others.

• Cover the mouth/nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing.

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