Calloway County has seen a recent uptick in COVID-19 cases that health leaders say is connected primarily to community spread, with more cases expected as local school districts and Murray State University bring back students for in-person learning.
Newly reported cases in Calloway County reached a new daily high with 18 new cases reported Friday, and another 10 cases were reported Monday, bringing total cases in the county to 247. The Calloway County Health Department in a press release said 190 of those cases are fully recovered, 49 are isolating at home, with three hospitalized. Four of the county’s five coronavirus-related deaths have happened within the past 30 days.
Murray-Calloway County Hospital CEO Jerry Penner in a Facebook post on August 5 said the county saw its largest spike in new cases following the July 4 holiday weekend, driving current positive case growth.
In an interview Monday, Penner said the county’s test positivity rate is now approximately at 8-9%, meaning about eight to nine out of 100 tests come back positive. In the beginning months of the pandemic, Penner said, the positivity rate was around 1-2%.
“That July 4th weekend was an absolute powder keg for our area. I’m not blaming anybody, people are people. We’re social by nature,” said Penner. “Until it impacts you, you don’t think anything of it.”
Penner said the early stages of the pandemic saw people in a family infecting other family members, but positive test results are now showing isolated groups of one or two cases not connected to individual family units. He said he expects cases to further increase as students arrive back to Murray State’s campus on August 17, and local school districts bring back students to class.
“You put them in dorms, you put them into office spaces, and you put them into classrooms, it’s going to create some problems with or without masks just because you got that many people together,” Penner said. “What happens when they come home out of the classroom? Will the students have the wherewithal and responsibility to recognize they should be wearing those masks in the dorms, or within their apartment living-dwellings with others?”
Penner also said he believes the university’s reopening plan will help curb spread of the virus, but that bringing back students to campus increases risk of community spread regardless of added safety precautions.
He said that added risk could be extended to K-12 classrooms bringing back students, in trying to get younger children to comply with masks and social distancing. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear in a Monday news conference recommended school districts remain closed to in-person instruction until late September, with the recommendation not applying to higher education because of students living on university campuses.
Calloway County Health Department Interim Director Kim Paschall also expects an increase in cases with an influx of Murray State students and school districts starting in-person instruction, but said she believed the university was “very prepared” for the upcoming semester.
“People, of course they’re wearing masks and those kind of things, which does help. But just the fact that we’ve re-opened and there’s more stirring out in the community, I think that’s a large part of why the numbers are increasing,” Paschall said.
Paschall said she recommends people remain informed, be aware of any symptoms that may develop, wear a mask, practice social distancing, and have good hand-washing hygiene.
“At this point, treat other people like they got it, and treat yourself like you’ve got it,” Paschall said.