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Concentrated Outbreaks In Rural Areas Are Fueling Missouri’s Coronavirus Increases

Fort Leonard Wood, taken 7-26-19
File photo | Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio
An outbreak of the coronavirus at Fort Leonard Wood earlier this month contributed to the growing number of coronavirus cases in Missouri. Counties with meatplacking plants also saw a spike in cases.

Statewide, there were 1,528 new coronavirus cases for the week ending June 19. Thats up 8% over the previous week, and on June 18, new cases topped 300 in one day for the first time since the beginning of May.

Some of the increases are coming from outbreaks in rural areas that are tied to meatpacking plants and Fort Leonard Wood. 

Adair and Sullivan Counties in northern Missouri each have more than 100 cases, while their neighboring counties are in the single digits. 

Amy Baumgarther, CEO of the Northeast Missouri Health Council, said 85% of those cases in those counties are tied to the two meatpacking plants in Kirksville and Milan. “These facilities employ a lot of people, and they work in close proximity to each other. Once one is positive, you start to see a rapid increase in cases,” Baumgartner said.

In McDonald County in southwestern Missouri, there are more than 400 cases largely due to outbreaks at poultry plants run by Tyson Foods and Simmons Foods.

While the outbreaks are centered on the plants, they are still a danger to the region, Baumgartner said. 

“Even though you may not know someone who works at one of those locations, you’re still in the community with people from those locations,” she said. “So you want to be sure that you’re being safe and they’re being safe.”

Pulaski County in south central Missouri is home to Fort Leonard Wood, a large military installation. That county has more than 100 cases, 10 times the number of its neighbors.

Seventy of them came in at once earlier this month, when an infantry battalion saw an outbreak. Maj. Gen. Donna Martin, commander at Fort Leonard Wood, said the installation was prepared.

“Due to the aggressive mitigation strategies in place, the number of infected and exposed individuals has been minimized to the greatest extent possible and contained within one training unit,” Martin said.

Fort Leonard Wood is restricting access to only authorized personnel, and putting basic training graduation ceremonies without an audience online, and troops are training with face coverings and social distancing in place.

Martin said that is reducing the spread of coronavirus even with the spike from early June.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

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Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.