HANNIBAL — Marion County Health Department closed out 2020 last week, announcing 37 new positive cases on the final day of the year. Neighboring counties also have seen cases surge.

Since the first cases were reported last March, Marion County Health Department Administrator Jean McBride and her team reported there were 3,173 COVID-19 cases, resulting in 52 deaths. The Friday report indicated that those contracting the virus ranged in age from infants to people in their 90s.

McBride said the health department does not have COVID-19 vaccine at this time, but will make an announcement when when the vaccine is available.

COVID-19 cases also soared in Ralls and Monroe counties during December.

The surge has stretched the ability of the small health departments in each county to conduct contact tracing that is needed to isolate people who have been exposed to the novel coronavirus to prevent its spread.

Paula Delaney, director of the Monroe County Health Department, and Tanya Taylor, director of the Ralls County Health Department, each say they are concerned with the exponential growth in cases.

“It is very alarming,” Delaney said late last week. “At one point this week, we were getting 20 news cases a day.”

The raw numbers tell the story.

Monroe County closed the month with 526 total COVID-19 cases, a nearly 25% increase over the 404 cases reported at the end of November. Deaths attributed to COVID-19 grew from four to nine. Just over 6% of the county’s population has been infected with COVID-19, as estimated at the end of 2019 by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Ralls County posted an even more dramatic increase, closing the month at 866 total cases of COVID-19. The county started at 551 cases. The cases have increased by 57% over a month. As in Monroe County, deaths have increased from four to nine. By the end of December, 8.7% of the county’s total population has been infected with COVID-19.

Delaney and Taylor said there were no super spreader events that caused the spike in cases.

“Really is it spread across the county,” Taylor said.

According to Delaney, family gatherings are likely the cause of some infections as she has seen more members of the same household or extended relationships become infected.

“But we really have no idea where they are picking it up. It could be the grocery store, but in the last two weeks, we have seen some family gatherings,” Delany said.

Taylor said the story is much the same in neighboring Ralls County. Her goal is for Ralls County contact tracers, which includes Taylor and two other staff members, to begin their work within 24 hours of receiving the report of a case.

“When we look, contact tracing of friends and family and the places people have been, we are not really seeing a common trend, although there was an increase following Thanksgiving,” she said.

Delaney said that the moment the department learns of a confirmed or probable confirmed case, calls are made to determine where people have been and who they have been in contact with for the previous two days to getting their diagnosis.

The department then reaches out to those who have been in close contact with the people who are have contracted coronavirus. Most people are cooperative, she said.

COVID-19 has impacted all area school districts, forcing remote earning for Monroe City, Madison and Ralls County at some points during the first half of the 2020-21 school year.

Delaney sees no immediate end to the pandemic as she does not expect to see vaccines to make it to this part of Missouri for other than health care workers and nursing home residents until February or even March.

“We just have to be diligent,” she said of people continuing to take precautions against getting infected.

Missouri health officials announced 2,305 new cases of the virus on Sunday, with 401,761 since the pandemic began. Missouri also reported 19 new deaths to give the state 5,562 linked to COVID-19.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases is down significantly from the peak of 4,723 set on Nov. 20, standing at 2,810 on Sunday.

The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus in the state declined to 2,701 from the previous day’s 2804, but it remained around the high level the state has been reporting since mid-November.

The seven-day average number of hospitalizations has stayed above 2,500 since mid-November. That is double what it was in early October.

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