Coronavirus cases in Missouri are rising at an alarming rate, but health experts said Wednesday it's too soon to know if the state is emerging as one of the next hot spots for the pandemic.
Missouri has seen 1,581 confirmed cases as of Wednesday, according to the state health department, a jump of 19.1.% from Tuesday. Three more deaths reported Wednesday brought the total to 18 blamed on COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Missouri's first confirmed case was reported March 7 and its second was March 12. Two weeks ago there were 24 confirmed cases, and 356 just a week ago. Confirmed cases have more than quadrupled since then.
Dr. Steve Lawrence, an infectious disease physician at Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, said Missouri has entered the "accelerated phase of the epidemic curve" just as many coastal states did a week or two ago.
"The question that we really want to know, and need to know, is how long the accelerated phase will last and how high it will go," Lawrence said. "Those things will determine if we really are a hot spot."
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams said the number of confirmed cases is partly attributable to testing, which Missouri has made a priority. More than 17,000 Missourians have been tested, far more than most neighboring states, he said.
"Yes, it's surely a reflection of more testing — we're doing as much as anybody — but also we're seeing clusters in metropolitan areas, much as the rest of the country is seeing, and that's where we're very much focusing our attention," Williams said.
More than two-thirds of all cases in Missouri have been in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. But Enbal Sachem, professor of behavioral science and health education at St. Louis University, said the lack of a statewide stay-at-home order raises concerns that as the virus makes its way to rural areas, the numbers will continue to surge.
The St. Louis and Kansas City areas, along with several other counties, have stay-at-home mandates, but Gov. Mike Parson has declined to issue a similar order across Missouri.
A database from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington projects that the virus will peak in Missouri later this month and May, resulting in more than 1,200 deaths by August, the Kansas City Star reported.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
The outbreak is ravaging some nursing homes. Five residents of a Springfield assisted living facility have died. Two residents at a St. Charles nursing home died and 19 other residents and staff tested positive, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Meanwhile, Jackson County health officials appear to have lost a disagreement over whether a Bass Pro Shops store in Independence can remain open despite a countywide stay-at-home order. County officials on Wednesday said attorneys advised them that Missouri law prohibits restrictions on gun sales during emergencies, meaning the shop can stay open.
Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas.