PINEVILLE -- Employees at the McDonald County Health Department note a rise in covid-19 cases in McDonald County, looking at the Delta variant for the majority of the new cases. The variant, according to health department employees, is more contagious, leads to individuals becoming sick more rapidly and severely, and impacts 20- to 50-year olds more than other age groups.
Paige Behm, administrator of the McDonald County Health Department, said positive covid-19 cases in the county are up 30 to 40 percent just in the last six weeks, when it was suspected that the Delta variant found its way into the county. Behm added that the variant is 40 to 50 percent more contagious than other covid-19 variants McDonald County has been impacted by.
"We want to encourage people to get vaccinated, and we can stop this if we can increase our vaccination rates," Behm said. "But it's going to take everybody."
Behm said only about 14 percent of McDonald County residents are currently vaccinated, but that the health department offers all three vaccinations every day. Behm said individuals wishing to be vaccinated can walk into the clinic to be vaccinated, make an appointment over the phone, or make an appointment online.
Behm said there is a concern that cancellations and closures may increase, as well as a mask mandate being reinforced at the start of the school year, which is a decision for the McDonald County School Board.
"That's a definite concern right now [referring to the mask mandate]. The unfortunate thing is the children under 12 years old of age are not eligible to be vaccinated," Behm said. "So, you're going to have spread amongst that group."
Behm said the main goal of the McDonald County Health Department when school starts is to keep students in school, rather than the school having to be shut down or multiple students having to quarantine, explaining the importance of the mask mandate to accomplish that goal.
Kayla Langford, administrative assistant at the McDonald County Health Department, said the health department offers advice to the school board regarding mask mandates, although the final say is out of the hands of the health department.
Langford said she believes part of the reason most McDonald County residents have not been vaccinated is due to the vaccinations becoming a political topic.
"I think it's, unfortunately, turned into a political topic instead of just a health topic," Langford said. "So now, it's kind of a political thing if you're going to get the vaccine or not."
Langford said she recommends McDonald County residents get vaccinated and stay home if they've been exposed to anyone with covid-19 or if they're feeling sick.
"Unfortunately, the rise is just going to increase the spread," Langford said. "The hard part is, you know, making sure people are staying at home when they're sick. Especially during the summer, you know, it's easier to stay home when it's cold out or nasty out."
Erin Pagel, 38, is the nursing supervisor at the McDonald County Health Department. Pagel said without residents being vaccinated, covid-19 will continue to worsen. Pagel said the mask mandate is important to decrease the number of closures the county will see.
"I think if the school does not do a mask mandate it is very likely that the school could end up having to close," Pagel said. "Just because of the way we're seeing it spread. Not that the school or any child would be doing anything that's not safe. It's just the way of the spread, if they don't have a mask mandate, it's inevitable that it's going to spread through the school."
Pagel added that residents should be vaccinated, noting that although it's possible to get covid-19 while being vaccinated, symptoms and seriousness would be lessened, and covid-19 would be less likely to spread.
The McDonald County Health Department, located at 500 Olin Street in Pineville, is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., with walk-in covid-19 vaccinations welcome. Additional information about covid-19 and vaccinations can be found on the McDonald County Health Department website.