Saline County leaders consider area a 'hot spot' for COVID-19

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MARSHALL - Saline County has one of the highest per capita rates of COVID-19 infections in the state. 

On Tuesday, Saline County Health Department nurse Lisa Thomas told KOMU 8 News an official from Fitzgibbon Hospital told the department the county had been flagged as a hot spot. 

"We have a few big industries, and so people are concentrated in those spots and they work closely together," Thomas said. "It's just a difficult situation."

As of Tuesday afternoon, the county had 38 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. Because counties have varying populations, one of the best ways to compare how widespread the virus is in different counties is to look at the number of cases per capita. 

In Saline County, there are 167.28 cases per 100,000 people. Boone County, which has 83 total cases but a much larger population, has 45.99 cases per 100,000 people. 

Saline County Health Department Administrator Tara Brewer said it's an all hands on deck situation in the county. 

"It's taking absolutely every type of energy that we've got around here," she said. "We don't have a choice at this point." 

The number of cases in the county has been rising quickly since officials confirmed the first two cases on April 1. Last Friday, the county confirmed 9 new cases in one day. 

Health Department Nurse Elizabeth Frerking said the key to containing the virus is for everyone to practice social distancing, especially because people can be contagious without showing any symptoms.

"Don't be afraid of the people we know about because we know about them, and we have them quarantined," Frerking said. "Those people that we don't know about, that feel completely fine, they're running around living life as normal. They have no idea they're sick, and just because they don't have symptoms doesn't mean they aren't contagious and they're giving it to other people." 

Frerking said the CDC guidance to wear a mask while in public is a good idea, but she stressed nothing can replace normal hand washing. 

Brewer said the department is not facing any unique resource shortages, though she did say getting testing kits at the beginning of the outbreak was difficult. She said community members have been helpful by offering to make masks and thanking healthcare workers often.

Brewer, Thomas and Frerking said they know some people think social distancing and stay-at-home orders are unnecessary, but the three pleaded for the public to trust healthcare workers. 

"Nobody's taking this lightly and nobody's doing this just to be irritating to everybody," Thomas said. "This really is important to us, and it's important to everybody, even if they don't believe it. So just humor us. Just go along with it just because we asked you to and we really, really need you to." 

As of Tuesday afternoon, one of the people with COVID-19 in Saline County has recovered, but the other 37 cases are still active. 

KOMU 8 News is updating this map with county case totals every day.