Hospitalizations up 286% in outstate Missouri since June

Associated Press
FILE - Michelle Schmitt, a medical assistant at Compass Health Network, removes nasal fluid Friday from a man so it can be tested for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 at the Compass Health Network.

O'FALLON — The number of people hospitalized for the coronavirus has nearly tripled in areas outside of Missouri's two largest metropolitan areas since the state reopened for business in mid-June, according to state health department data Tuesday.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services' COVID-19 dashboard shows the state's northwest, southeast, southwest and central regions all reached record highs for virus-related hospitalizations on Monday, based on seven-day averages. All told, Missouri reported 1,094 hospitalizations, five fewer than a day earlier, when statewide hospitalizations peaked.

Excluding the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, hospitalizations have risen 286% in the 3½ months since Republican Gov. Mike Parson allowed Missouri to reopen on June 16. The seven-day average for hospitalizations outstate on June 16 was 161; on Monday it was 461.

That included a more than sixfold increase in central Missouri — 15 hospitalizations on June 16 compared to 96 on Monday — and a jump in the southeastern area from 18 cases in mid-June to 62. Hospitalizations in northwestern Missouri jumped to 52 from 20.

In southwestern Missouri, the seven-day average for hospitalizations on June 16 was 99. It was 230 on Monday. Health care leaders in Springfield said last week that hospitals there were running out of staff and capacity.

Missouri Hospital Association spokesman Dave Dillon said other regions face the same concern. If the upward trend in hospitalizations continues, "you'd absolutely have to come up with some strategy to have the bed capacity to deal with it," whether it be finding alternative space to turn into makeshift hospital rooms or sending patients elsewhere for treatment, Dillon said.

"Do you treat those people locally? Do you have capacity to do that? Or do the people who need the most acute levels of care go elsewhere for it?" Dillon said.

Hospital capacity is relatively plentiful in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas.

The St. Louis region, by far the state's hardest-hit area in terms of total confirmed cases and deaths, saw hospitalization peak early in the pandemic, with 708 patients on May 1. By mid-June, hospitalizations had declined to 316. They've risen since then and as of Monday, 381 people were hospitalized in the region.

The Kansas City region had 115 hospitalizations on June 16, saw a peak of 285 on July 23, and his since seen a decline to 252.

Confirmed virus cases have risen nearly eightfold since the state reopened. Missouri had 16,414 confirmed cases as of June 16. Now, the state has reported 124,762 confirmed cases, including 1,356 new cases Tuesday. The state also reported 12 new deaths, bringing the total to 2,086.

Dr. David Warren, an infectious disease physician at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said the hospitalization data indicates that the spike in Missouri is due to more than aggressive and plentiful testing.

"It's a pretty good indicator that there are people getting sick from COVID, and they're sick enough that they'll show up to be in the hospital," Warren said.

Dillon cited some good news. The length of hospital stays is generally shorter than it was early in the pandemic, in part because care providers have a better idea of how to treat patients. Unlike during the onset of the virus, personal protective equipment is relatively plentiful, and ventilator usage is low.

Dillon urged Missourians to be proactive in taking steps to reduce the spread of the virus.

"The game is still doing those things that will allow us to manage through until there's a solution," he said.