COVID-19 Town Hall
KOMU 8's Emily Spain talked with one of KBIA's health reporters about updates in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Sebastian Martinez Valdivia works for the local NPR station and has led its coverage on the coronavirus in mid-Missouri.
He talks about how access to testing has evolved and antibody testing. He also discusses what public health officials are saying about reopening the state safely and addresses hot spots in rural communities in mid-Missouri.
Check out his answers below.
Q: How has access to testing changed in the last month and what about antibody testing?
"In terms of availability, they've tweaked some things. The state says it wants to relax its guidelines for who can get tested. The health director, Randall Williams, said that's tied to fewer other possible causes of COVID-like symptoms. So, as the weather gets warmer, as we move out of allergy season eventually, you'll have fewer runny noses, fewer people coughing, maybe getting other illnesses that aren't COVID, and therefore, they can open up that testing."
"As far as testing capacity goes, the lab in Columbia says they're averaging around 350 tests a day. They have capacity to do around 11,000 to 20,000, a week, but they don't have the test kits for that. That's continued to be kind of the sticking point in terms of ramping up testing is getting those test kits."
"And then, the antibody tests...they test for antibodies against the coronavirus, that causes COVID-19, in the blood. And that way you can tell if you've had it and potentially if you're immune to it. But, there's still questions about if you are immune to it, how long you're immune to it for. Questions about the reliability of those tests because they haven't actually received approval from the federal government. A lot of them are just being imported and those requirements have been waived because they're trying to get tests on the market. And so the reliability is another question there as well."
Q: There's a lot of debate about reopening the state. What's being said about doing this while also protecting public health?
"For public health from public health officials what they've been saying is they essentially need a lot more resources in terms of being able to test and to trace. Those are the two major components. So, being able to tell how many people have COVID-19, because a lot of people can have it and have no symptoms whatsoever, and then being able to trace the people who they've confirmed have it, who they've come into contact with and how it might be spreading through them."
"And so, for actual contact tracing that's what the county and city health departments are doing. There's been guidance now from their national organization that for every 100,000 inhabitants, you need about 30 people on staff to do contact tracing effectively in a way that makes them feel confident that they can start to reopen things, and we're pretty far off that at this point. That's why I think all of the messages from health providers has been that they're reopening gradually."
Q: We are seeing some rural communities in our area become hot spots for the virus, why and how are they dealing with that?
"I've been monitoring this, because I've been keeping track of meat processing plants, which are major employers in rural areas, and have been hotbeds for COVID-19 in other states. And so, the counties that I have been looking at here in mid-Missouri...Saline county has a high number of cases per 100,000 residents. It actually has a higher rate of cases than St Louis County, which has the most cases in the state."
"And then, Moniteau County also has more than 50 cases for a county that has some 15,000 inhabitants. So, those are both places that have major plants. And so, that's one thing that I've been looking at. They have obviously a lot fewer health resources in their county so a lot of those patients feed into Columbia health providers. And so that's a concern that actually Mayor Treece talked about in the press briefing [Tuesday]."
Q: How are these large plants keeping employees safe during this pandemic?
"First of all, they're wearing face masks now. Up until last week, I had heard from workers that their employers weren't providing face masks at some plants and now, pretty much all the plants in the state are providing those face masks. They're screening employees at the door as well to see if people might have a fever. That's also led to a complication. I've heard from a worker that the lines where they're waiting to be screened are very long and they're waiting outside and so, they might expose themselves to other illnesses, which could actually be, you know, counterproductive in terms of trying to protect workers. But, there's definitely been a lot of changes in the last week or two in terms of trying to institute those changes to protect workers."