Cherokee County health officials have confirmed Southeast Kansas' first positive coronavirus case, according to a statement Thursday morning from Sheriff David Groves.
The person is a 52-year-old man who is currently quarantined but not hospitalized, Groves said. A preliminary investigation indicates that the man's case was not related to travel.
"We believe he likely had contact with someone with the virus," Groves said. "The investigation is ongoing, but it doesn't appear associated with travel."
County health officials have been in contact with the man and are working to identify any recent close contacts he had. Anyone who may have been exposed to the virus via the man will be contacted as soon as possible.
Groves was able to rule out a connection between the Baxter Springs School District and a case in Greene County. School officials had closed schools in response to a possible connection between employees and that case, but Groves said the health department ruled out any link.
The case marks the first in a county that borders Jasper County. But that proximity didn't set off any additional alerts, said Joplin Health Department Director Dan Pekarek: The city was already on alert. Pekarek said he was surprised that Joplin hasn't had a positive test already.
"I don't really know if that case shifts anything for us," Pekarek said. "There's no reason to believe that it hasn't been in the area already. The number will go up as more people get tested."
As of Thursday afternoon, 34 cases had been reported in Kansas, 28 in Missouri and 44 in Oklahoma, with one death in each of those states.
Testing is still not readily availabile throughout the region, Pekarek said. That, combined with how people with COVID-19 may be asymptomatic, strengthens the importance of prevention strategies such as social distancing and self-quarantining, he said.
Anyone who wants a test should call his or her doctor first, he said. The tests offered by the state require a person to meet certain criteria regarding symptoms and whether they have traveled or contacted a known positive-case person. Testing via private labs may not require criteria as stringent as those for state labs.
"The availability of both the state and private lab tests is still limited," Pekarek said. "You can't just get a test. You have to have a doctor's order for it."
While the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms in most adults, older adults and people with existing health problems can develop more severe illness, including pneumonia. According to the World Health Organization, people with the more severe illness may require three to six weeks for recovery.
People with a fever of of 100.4 degrees or higher, a cough and shortness of breath are encouraged to call their medical provider immediately, according to a news release from Cherokee County. Under guidelines recommended by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, patients will first be tested for influenza A and B before COVID-19.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has set up a hotline for anyone with questions related to COVID-19. It can be reached at 1-866-534-3463.