As record numbers of patients with the coronavirus fill Missouri's hospitals, many are requiring specialized care in intensive care unit beds that are becoming increasingly scarce.

O'FALLON — As record numbers of patients with the coronavirus fill Missouri's hospitals, many are requiring specialized care in intensive care unit beds that are becoming increasingly scarce.

Data released by the state on Wednesday showed an additional 4,071 new COVID-19 cases and 24 more deaths. The state has reported 220,768 cases and 3,323 deaths since the pandemic began.

The state also cited a record 2,157 hospitalizations, 102 above the previous mark set Tuesday. ICU capacity is down to 32% statewide, but just 28% in northwestern Missouri, 19% in the Kansas City area and 2% in sparsely populated northeast Missouri.

Missouri Hospital Association spokesman David Dillon said the ICU bed shortage is made worse because hospitals "are experiencing a staffing crisis after nine months of managing the disease."

To staff ICUs, hospitals are taking steps such as hiring agency workers and moving staff from other areas of the hospital. Many hospitals also are postponing elective surgeries to keep bed space available for COVID-19 patients, Dillon said.

Adding to the problem is that patients who require skilled nursing care after hospitalization increasingly have nowhere to go because space in nursing facilities is limited.

"This is increasing hospitals' length of stay for COVID-19 patients as hospitals work to identify where patients that cannot be discharged home can go for post-acute care," Dillon said.

In the Kansas City area, some hospitals are nearing the point where they'll have to deny patients seeking to transfer from rural hospitals, The Kansas City Star reported. The Kansas City area reported 1,284 new cases Tuesday, a one-day record. The region includes parts of Kansas and Missouri.

In Missouri's largest metro area, the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force on Wednesday reported a new record for COVID-19 hospital admissions — 120. Total hospitalizations were at 656, one less than the record set Tuesday. The task force includes the region's major hospitals and the data lags two days.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson allowed the state to reopen in mid-June.  Parson, who easily won reelection last week, has adamantly opposed a mask mandate but has urged Missourians to take precautions to slow the spread of the virus.

The governor's office on Wednesday posted photos of Parson meeting with the Republican caucus. It appeared that only one or two of the at least two dozen people in the room were wearing masks or practicing social distancing. The photos drew criticism from several people posting on Facebook.

A message left with Parson's spokeswoman was not immediately returned. Republican Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz said that while senators often wear masks in public, it is "ultimately up to each individual to make that decision."

This story has been updated to correct the number of people wearing masks at the Republican caucus.