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295 confirmed positives in Triumph testing

The mass testing of all Triumph employees concluded Friday with the current number of lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 cases at 295.

The results from Monday and Tuesday’s testing on 1,623 employees came back showing 259 positive cases in addition to the dozens of cases confirmed last week prior to the mass testing. A total of 295 employees currently have laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The results of the 709 employees tested Wednesday and Thursday are still pending, bringing the total tested to more than 2,300.

DHSS had staff on-site in St. Joseph Friday assisting with case investigations and contact tracing.

Northwest Health Services conducted most of the testing and Rodney Hummer, interim CEO, said after Monday’s initial round of testing passed, the group created a more productive plan and by Tuesday administered a test every minute and four seconds.

“We used the nasopharyngeal swab, so the employee laid down on a cot and put the swab into the nose beyond 1 inch to get the accurate culture,” Hummer said.

Hummer said while the final numbers aren’t out yet, but health staff have tested the majority of the 3,000 employees and are setting up an algorithm for Triumph to refer employees not tested to Northwest Health’s South Side clinic.

“It’ll be super easy for those that were not tested to just come over and do our drive-thru testing,” Hummer said.

The employees not tested were said to not be working during the week of testing.

Hummer said he was pleased with the responses he received from Triumph employees on the customer service Northwest Health provided.

“My key concern was did we treat them with respect and compassion, and the overriding theme is that they’re very pleased with all of the Northwest Health staff that volunteered to do this,” Hummer said.

Even though Triumph was proactive in its response to positive COVID-19 cases at the plant, Hummer said the volunteers knew there would still be more positive cases to come.

“We know there’s going to be positives — that’s why we’re here to find those so they can pull them off the line and get them away from people so they can isolate at home and recover,” Hummer said.

Hummer said it would be a miracle if no more positive results came back from pending tests, but the key is to be proactive with the cases.

“Identify those who are carriers and make sure they stay at home and isolate,” Hummer said.

The St. Joseph City Council voted Thursday to begin the reopening of businesses on Monday, May, 4. Hummer believes the community needs to get back to work, but he urged people need to follow guidelines.

“As long as people can abide by the safety guidelines, let’s get going again, but I know human behavior and have been out shopping and see people without masks and getting close to each other and sneezing, and so, that’s the scary part that you could have some outbreaks because people are not following the best practices,” Hummer said.

LifeLine Foods and Daily’s Premium Meats have both recently confirmed their first positive COVID-19 cases and Hummer hopes they both follow the standard Triumph has set.

“You need to get out ahead of this, be aggressive, communicate with your people and get somebody ... to come on-site and do it here very efficiently,” Hummer said.

Rodney said Northwest Health is prepared to continue completing tests on a consistent basis with volunteers ready to serve the community.

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Mosaic cuts positions due to COVID-19 pandemic

Mosaic Life Care is cutting some positions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mosaic Life Care spokeswoman Joey Austin said Friday the majority of the positions eliminated were leadership positions, with seven of the jobs being vice president-level and above.

Mosaic officials said the adjustment to operations is to combat financial challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are proud of the extraordinary work Mosaic caregivers have done during this global pandemic,” Chief Executive Officer Mark Laney said in a news release. “However, the financial impact has been significant on our operations and this decision is a necessary step to ensure Mosaic is here for the long term to meet the health needs in our region.”

Mosaic cited multiple factors leading to the financial impact, including postponing elective surgeries for the last few weeks, patients delaying needed care, making critical investments in supplies and investments to treat COVID-19 patients and minimizing risk and exposure.

In addition to the job eliminations, all officers, physicians, vice presidents and directors incurred a percentage salary decrease that began in March, Mosaic officials said.

“Many of these changes were already within Mosaic’s long-term cost reduction plan to address the ongoing Medicare reimbursement reductions and the lack of Medicaid Expansion in Missouri,” Laney said. “At the end of the day, we have a duty and an obligation to our neighbors in Northwest Missouri to be good stewards with our finances to ensure Mosaic continues to be here for generations to come.”

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City working to reopen facilities

After a decision this week to begin reopening St. Joseph on Monday, City Hall is scrambling to make changes to how civic facilities will operate in order to maintain distancing.

The REC Center, Remington Nature Center and Joyce Raye Patterson 50-plus Activity Center all are planning to reopen on Monday, but with changes to protect employees and patrons while complying with the new guidelines set in place by the City Council.

The Missouri Theater and Civic Arena also will be open, but no events have been scheduled to take place.

The Bode Ice Arena will not open Monday and usually closes in May anyway.

Director of Parks, Recreation and Civic Facilities Chuck Kempf said the decision last week had his department rushing to get the facilities ready to open — many of which will have new rules in place for both employees and patrons.

Employees at all locations will be given protective equipment, and the city is looking into purchasing more masks and hand sanitizer to keep them in stock.

Kemp said the REC Center will operate on regular summer hours, but some equipment in the fitness room will be shut off in order to encourage distancing.

“We’re just going to close down every other piece of cardio equipment,” Kempf said. “That gives the 6 feet of spacing. The rest of the fitness center will be monitored.”

A staff person will enforce distancing rules and will ensure that each machine or piece of equipment is disinfected after each use.

At the Joyce Raye Patterson 50-plus Activity Center, additional rules will be put in place due to the smaller space and the fact that it is a private membership club.

Those who wish to work out in the fitness center will have to reserve a spot, and will only be allowed to do so for a set amount of time.

“They’ll have to reserve a time to use the fitness center and they’ll have a maximum of 60 minutes,” Kempf said. “They’ll have an hour and then they’ll have to leave just so we can make sure we keep turning it over for the other people who want to use it.”

Some activities at Joyce Raye Patterson will continue. Those that do not allow people to be at least 6 feet apart and those that require everyone to handle communal items, such as a deck of cards will not be allowed. Kempf said pool can likely still be played, but a designated person will be the only one allowed to touch balls and all balls and cue will be disinfected after every use.

Distancing will be enforced at all city locations, including the Remington Nature Center where tour groups may be spread out and tour guides will have to wear protective equipment.

Kemp said several part-time employees who usually work at the civic facilities have left in order to find other jobs during the lockdown.

“That’s not overly unusual to lose employees sometimes at these places, but it’s just kind of disappointing that something like this happened and folks were kind of forced to look for things elsewhere,” Kempf said.

City Hall will not reopen until May 11 and could be changed so that all business that involves customers is done on the first floor.

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COVID cases skew younger in Buchanan County

According to the St. Joseph Health Department, there have been 34 cases of COVID-19 among individuals between the ages of 20 to 29 in Buchanan County, the highest age range out of the 141 confirmed cases here.

That stands in sharp contrast with the state of Missouri’s top age category for the those getting the virus of 80-plus, which has about 800 out of 7,562 cases, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Dr. Randall Williams, director of the state health agency, said he would suspect the higher proportion of young people found with the virus in Buchanan County is due to every employee, regardless of symptoms, being tested at Triumph Foods which as of Friday has resulted in 295 positives, although not all of those are Buchanan County residents.

“I suspect that the age group of people working at Triumph is younger while doing this asymptomatic testing,” Williams said. “Buchanan County testing is a very specific cohort.”

Williams said while he is not certain of the average age of Triumph employees, he said he would guess many are younger.

Neither Triumph Foods, the St. Joseph Health Department nor Northwest Health Services, which is conducting most of the testing, had information on the age demographics of the employees being tested at Triumph.

Buchanan County also has had a higher number of men test positive for the virus than the state percentage with the men making up just above 90 of the cases and women just under 50. This differs from the state of Missouri as a whole, where around 4,000 women have tested positive compared to 3,500 men.

Buchanan County has by far the most cases in what is considered region H of the state, with Clinton County being next with 11 cases.

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7,835 COVID cases in Missouri, 141 in Buchanan County

Missouri recorded 7,835 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The number of cases is up by 273 from 7,562 Thursday, resulting in a 3.6% increase.

The number of deaths increased from 329 to 337.

Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins University, which also counts presumptive positive cases, is reporting 7,955 cases in Missouri and 351 deaths.

Buchanan County is recording 141 cases, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Mosaic Life Care has issued 1,897 tests, with 75 returning a positive result, 1,711 a negative result and 111 still pending. Three patients are inpatients, all others are outpatients.

Kansas is recording 4,449 cases of COVID-19, up from Thursday’s number of 4,238, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. A total of 130 people have died.