COVID-19 cases in Missouri reach highest level since January

Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 2:07 PM CDT
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O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) - Missouri’s health department on Thursday reported the highest daily count of new COVID-19 cases since the dead of winter, and the association representing the state’s hospital is warning that the health care system is potentially on the brink of a crisis.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services cited 2,302 newly confirmed cases of the virus, the largest one-day count since mid-January, as the delta variant continues to spread in a state with one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates. Hospitalizations ticked up statewide by 47 to 1,331, as did the number of patients in intensive care units, rising by 19 to 409.

Nearly half of the ICU patients — 196 — are hospitalized in southwestern Missouri. Greene County and Springfield leaders are asking the state to fund an alternative care site since hospitals in Springfield are near capacity.

The Missouri Hospital Association, in its weekly COVID-19 update, called the situation in southwestern Missouri “dire” and said signals for the rest of Missouri are “foreboding.” Statewide, hospitalizations are up 112% from late May lows, though still far below the winter peak of nearly 3,000.

But at least one hospital, Mercy Springfield, was reporting pandemic high numbers of hospitalizations. Erik Frederick, the hospital’s chief administrative officer, wrote on Twitter Thursday that there had been 16 deaths so far this week.

Ashley Kimberling Casad, vice president of clinical services at Cox South Hospital in Springfield, said the hospital was less equipped to handle a surge now. One reason is that it has fewer traveling nurses and is finding it harder to hire them. Also, summer is a busy time for elective surgeries.

The hospital association said hospitalizations in southwestern Missouri could exceed winter highs within days.

“If the rest of the state follows current trajectories — with delta systematically picking off localized pockets of unvaccinated Missourians — our entire health care system will be very near the brink it flirted with during the winter of 2020-2021,” the update stated.

A spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Mike Parson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Parson said last week that hospitals weren’t overwhelmed and that the state was “not in a crisis mode.”

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told McClatchy Newspapers in an interview published Thursday in the Kansas City Star that Missouri is the most worrisome place in the U.S. right now.

“This is a variant, this delta variant, that’s highly contagious. And so as it starts to spread, anybody who’s not vaccinated is in a danger zone. … The chances of getting infected in Missouri are getting really high and that means potentially serious illness or even death,” Collins said.

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