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story.lead_photo.caption The Callaway County Health Department's website now features a graphic showing how the county's COVID-19 cases break down. When the graphic was last upated Wednesday, the county had 324 active cases of COVID-19; in total, 1,255 people within Callaway County tested have posted for the disease since March. CCHD Executive Director Sharon Lynch said Thursday that the number of active cases was up to 380. Photo by Courtesy of the Callaway County Health Department

This article is free to all readers because it includes information important to public safety and health in our community.

New updates to the CallawayCOVID19.com website will soon offer information about the gender and age of county residents with COVID-19.

Visitors to the site this week were greeted with a colorful graphic made with data visualization tool Infogram. In addition to the gender and age breakdowns (both labeled with "Coming Soon"), the graphic repackages data that was already publicly available through the site and others in an easy-to-read manner.

"The county commissioners heard loud and clear from lots of people that they want more information, so we're trying to provide that," said Sharon Lynch, executive director of the Callaway County Health Department.

Lynch noted the graphic is still in development.

"We are mining from our records — it's slow and tedious, and we're doing the best we can," she said.

The graphic shows currently active cases, total cases, recovered individuals, deaths to date, a ratio of deaths to recoveries and a graph of disease activity in recent months. As of Tuesday, it also featured current hospitalizations (labelled "Coming Soon"), though that part of the graphic disappeared by Thursday — Lynch said the county isn't always informed of hospitalizations.

Lynch said the county's IT head, Wesley Bond, has taken the lead on developing the graphic.

"I think he's trying to come up with something, keeping (health privacy law) HIPAA in mind, trying to get data together, because people keep asking for it," Lynch said. "We're trying to get the basics in there, like male vs. female and the age breakdown — some generic stuff just to give people an idea of some of the information they've been wanting."

She said she's not sure whether additional data will be added to the graphic in the future. Bond couldn't be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

According to CallawayCOVID19.com, the county plans to stop updating the blog section of the website with daily case counts; that section will be instead used for other types of notifications. For example, on Wednesday, the CCHD shared a blog post about upcoming mental health workshops for parents.

Thursday, Lynch said she hadn't actually been informed of the decision to stop sharing blog updates.

"I'm still sending numbers," she said.

The graphic currently offers no way to view previous updates. Without checking the site daily and tracking the numbers, residents have no easy way of comparing a given day's total to the previous day or week.

Contemplating masks

During Tuesday's Fulton City Council meeting, city council members expressed hopes the additional data will prove useful in guiding policy decisions.

"We've been getting updates from the county as to specific numbers for Fulton — not consistently, but I know they're trying to give the numbers in such a way it's preventing a true picture of what's going on," Mayor Lowe Cannell said.

The city shares those updates to the City of Fulton Facebook page — on Wednesday, the city reported 44 active cases within city limits, a number that excludes more than 160 active cases at the Fulton Reception and Diagnostic Center.

Ward 3 city council member John Braun suggested taking a look at the new graphic together.

"This is something new they have on their site that would be really, really helpful," Braun said. "It's a lot of the information we asked for in writing (earlier in the year). I think that's certainly information that we could use to make a decision.

Ward 2's Jeff Stone noted one important piece of data is still missing.

"The other item that is extremely important for understanding the spread of the disease is the positivity rate," Stone said. "That takes the number of people that are tested and it tells you (the percentage) of those tested that come back positive."

A higher rate indicates the disease is spreading rapidly, Stone explained. Stone works for SSM Health as a patient access services manager and said he's heard 10 percent bandied about as the threshold indicating too-rapid growth. According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Callaway County's positivity rate stood at 10.6 percent as of Wednesday. Cases are high across the region, he said.

"The disease is continuing to spread," he added.

Fulton City Council members also once more discussed a potential mask ordinance. Fulton officials have drafted an ordinance based on one passed earlier this year in Springfield, though it's yet to appear on the agenda for a formal vote. The ordinance requires people age 9 and older to wear a mask while inside a public location and outside when unable to maintain a six-foot distance from each other. It provides exceptions for those with a health condition preventing mask use and for certain activities, such as sports and eating food, among others.

Ward 1's Ballard Simmons noted excluding the FRDC numbers, Fulton's active cases currently make up about 30 percent of the entire county's. But, Stone said, only a fraction of one percent of Fulton's residents actively have COVID-19.

Several council members expressed frustration about those who continue to refuse to wear masks in public.

"I believe the people who are wearing masks will continue to wear masks — that's the sad part about it," Braun said. "I have personal experience today where I know people weren't wearing masks, and a dear friend of mine lost his wife today (due to) the disease. It's sad because people didn't want to wear a mask."

Simmons said he recently noticed several customers at Walmart and Westlakes Ace Hardware not wearing masks, even though both businesses have a policy requiring patrons to do so.

"COVID virus killed my uncle three weeks ago," Stone added. "It is a serious virus, but we also have a serious decision we have to make of whether or not we pass a law on our citizens. That's the conflict that's in my head."

Though council members didn't move to put the mask ordinance on the agenda at Tuesday's meeting, they agreed to continue discussing it at future meetings.

"It's common sense — wear a mask," Simmons said.

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