Keeping residents of Cooper County safe and healthy is of the upmost importance to Cooper County Public Health Center Nurse Administrator Melanie Hutton.

There were eight reported cases of COVID-19 in Cooper County as of Friday. Seven of those patients have recovered, so there is only one active case in Cooper County.

The health center received conflicting reports Saturday of a ninth case, but it is considered a "no case" due to errors in the patient’s name and swab date sent to the health center. The positive result likely does not belong to a Cooper County resident, according to news release.

Hutton has 27 years of nursing experience and oversees nine staff at the health center’s location at 17040 Klinton Drive in Boonville.

While the health center puts out daily reports on the number of COVID-19 cases in Missouri, the county is Hutton’s main priority. The main responsibility of the health center is disease investigation and contract tracing for the coronavirus.

The health center is only able to do a small amount of testing because they have a limited supply of personal protective equipment, and because of testing shortage, Hutton said.

The few tests the health center has conducted is done through the state. The health center has received some donations to obtain tests. Most people are being tested in Columbia, though, Hutton said.

"We’ve reduced our services to essential only," she said. "Maybe someone who is injured, we give them a tetanus shot. We are still open but we are not doing any routine services."

The center receives disease reports at various times throughout the day and even in the middle of the night.

"The system of reporting for COVID is so new. There were times where we would get the same report maybe five times," Hutton said.

Contract tracing generally starts at 6 a.m. and runs through at least 10-11 p.m. when the health center receives notification of a positive case. Some of the positive cases were results of Cooper County residents being exposed to someone who tested positive in a neighboring county. The health center also is fielding questions from local businesses.

"We’ve had those calls from morning to night," Hutton said.

Hutton is always on-call, so there is always someone available to answer questions for public health.

Questions surrounding COVID-19 have been numerous, she said. Half of the health center’s staff is working remotely. Outside of COVID-19, the health center provides a myriad of other public health services.

"If there are other disasters in the community, the [center] has an emergency truck and trailer [it shares] with 13 counties,"Hutton said. "The trailer is set up as a mobile shot clinic."

The health center works with the Cooper County Emergency Management Agency and the Cooper County Commission in following state orders.

Hutton believes Missouri will continue to see cases but is hopeful the numbers will stay low amid Gov. Mike Parson’s Show-Me Recovery reopening plan, which went into effect Monday.

The health center puts out daily reports on the number of confirmed cases in both the state and county. Guidelines from the recovery plan and recommendations for opening churches also were posted in the last week.

Residents should not throw caution to the wind as businesses are able to reopen, Hutton said.

"I would ask them to be selective in what they are doing in activities,"Hutton said. "I have said all along that people should pretend that they are [a] carrier."

Residents should still wash hands frequently and keep up with social distances recommendations, she said. Fabric masks help protect other people, but they are not 100%, she added.

"This will come and go and that is why they are expecting a second wave," Hutton said. "It’s never going to quite go away."

Hutton still expects a shortage of protective equipment this winter. The seasonal flu will also return in the fall and winter, to pair with COVID-19, so the health care system will be stressed, she said.

Parson cautioned residents to continue social distancing even after the stay-at-home order lifted.

The toughest part of the COVID-19 pandemic is inconsistent enforcement for patients, whether it is stay-at-home order or follow up, Hutton said. This is the first pandemic most people have lived through, she said.

"We just don’t have years of documented medical research and history on COVID-19," she said. "Just when they think they know something more, new symptoms are coming out in addition to the fever, cough and shortness of breath.

Hutton hopes more testing will open up in the coming days and weeks. With the exception of hotspots, the COVID-19 situation in Missouri is getting better, she said. Missouri still needs more tests, though.

"When the government turned down the tests from the World Health Organization and then bid it out among American businesses, it took them time to get up and running and that was the lag," Hutton said. "We would be much further ahead had we taken WHO tests."

In the meantime, each business is going to have to look at how they can protect their employees and customers once they reopen because there will continue to be more cases, she said.

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