The virus ‘just started to sprout’

O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) – Pastor Joshua Manning is waiting for the test results, but because of persistent fever and body aches, he can tell that he probably has the coronavirus. His wife and three children also have symptoms, and so many members of his Community Baptist Church in Little Noel, Missouri, are infected that he’s closing the building until things get better.

“We did all the things we were supposed to do,” said Manning, 41. “We close for two months. But the cases have just started to emerge. “

Have they ever done it? In early June, McDonald County in the far southwest of Missouri had fewer than two dozen confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. As of Tuesday, 498 cases have been confirmed, many of them linked to the Tyson Foods chicken processing plant in Noel. Meat processing plants in the US USA they have been stung by outbreaks, including plants in other parts of Missouri.

However, few places have been hit like McDonald County. Although it has only 23,000 residents, only four other Missouri counties and the cities of St. Louis and Kansas City have registered more cases.

Last week, Missouri health officials began evaluating the 1,400 workers at the Tyson plant. The results have not been announced, but the state health department said it is working with local health departments on contact tracing and offering free tests. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. USA They plan to send investigators.

The state health department said other “case groups” are being monitored in southwest Missouri. Over the past week, neighboring Newton County reported 160 new cases and nearby Jasper County has seen 66 new cases.

Republican Governor Mike Parson attributed the increase in confirmed cases to increased evidence, not a resurgence of the virus.

“We are not overwhelmed,” Parson said during a press conference. “We are not currently experiencing a second wave, and we have no intention of closing Missouri at this time.”

McDonald County, flanked by Arkansas to the south and Oklahoma to the west, is known for its steep cliffs, waterfalls, and breathtaking beauties along the Elk River, a popular camping and floating spot. Noel is named after a founding family, but the yuletide-related name causes thousands of Christmas cards and letters to be sent to Noel’s post office each December so they can be stamped on “The Christmas City.”

The arrival of immigrants to work at the Tyson plant has resulted in a unique and diverse community. Manning said at least 11 different languages are spoken in the city of 1,800 residents, and her church houses services where five languages are spoken. The pastor in Spanish is hospitalized with COVID-19, Manning said.

Manning wonders if government leaders shouldn’t have changed their approach to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“We were closed for two months with no cases within 100 miles of here, and now is the situation where we need to be closed,” Manning said. “I’ll be fine. My family will be fine. But the risk will be older people. I want to keep them away from church, keep them at home, because I don’t want that risk for them.”

Missouri was one of the first states to start reopening, and state restrictions were lifted beginning June 16. Parson frequently urges Missouri residents to use common sense, but the McDonald County Health Department goes further, stressing the need to avoid meetings beyond the immediate family, to wear a mask when leaving home and practice social distancing.

Tyson said in a statement that his highest priority is “the health and safety of our team members, their families and our communities.” The company said it has implemented protective measures that include symptom exams for all employees before each shift, mandatory face masks, social distancing requirements and physical barriers between workstations.

McDonald County Commissioner-President Bill Lant said the outbreak was surprising given the county’s sparse population spanning more than 600 square miles (1,550 square kilometers), but he is grateful that most of those who tested positive in the results they have shown mild symptoms or no symptoms. Only a few people have been hospitalized, and the county has reported no deaths.

“I think we will be fine, it’s just a matter of working together, and we are,” said Lant. “They all sing the same hymnbook.”