University of Missouri hospital sees highest COVID patient caseload

Rudi Keller
A downtown Columbia business had a sign out Thursday telling customers to wear face masks and observe social distancing while in the store.

University of Missouri Hospital has hit a new high in inpatient COVID-19 cases as Missouri set another record in new cases and Boone County had its second-highest daily count.

As of early Thursday afternoon, MU Hospital had 14 patients, with 19 patients admitted either for symptoms or other care awaiting test results. The hospital has 247 beds.

"It’s a little higher than what we’ve seen; however, we treat patients from throughout mid-Missouri with COVID-19, so not all of these cases are necessarily from Boone County," MU Health Care spokesman Eric Maze wrote in an email.

For the fourth time in six days, the Department of Health and Senior Services reported a new high in the number of new cases found by testing. During a briefing Thursday afternoon, Gov. Mike Parson attributed a part of the increase to delayed reporting of test results.

There was a delay in reporting 13,000 test results from Sunday through Wednesday, with 160 positive results, state Health Director Randall Wiliams said during the briefing.

Missouri reported 553 new cases on Thursday and has reported 2,513 new COVID-19 infections in the past seven days. That is 13 percent of the total of 19,421 reported since the first case was found in the state in early March.

Despite that rapid increase, Parson said the infection is under control.

“Missouri is recovering and and we are moving forward,” Parson said.

The Columbia-Boone County Department of Public Health and Human services reported 17 additional cases on Thursday, second only to the 18 reported last Thursday.

The indicator for hospitalizations, which Williams has called the most important data in deciding state coronavirus policy, are all positive, Williams said during the briefing.

Hospitalizations are at an all-time low, he said, and “our ventilatory capacity is at the best it has ever been.”

However, there is no way to independently verify that data because the state has ceased requiring a daily hospitalizations report for the public from the Missouri Hospital Association. It gave information on hospitalizations, use of hospital beds for all purposes and the number of ICU beds and ventilators avaiable for use.

The only data now available from the department’s COVID-19 dashboard is hospitalization totals, which are delayed by 72 hours. On Thursday, it showed 600 people were hospitalized, up 54 from the number reported Wednesday and enough to halt the decline in the seven-day rolling average of hospitalizations.

The state is sending vials of remdesivir, an anti-viral drug showing good results in some patients, to three locations in the state, including Boone County, to treat hospitalized cases, Williams said.

“I am really grateful to be in Missouri compared to other states,” Williams said of the state’s current situation.

Unlike other days recently, when massive numbers of new cases were discovered in southwest Missouri counties including Newton, Jasper and McDonald, the majority of cases reported Thursday are in the state’s two largest metropolitan areas. The St. Louis region reported more than 230 new cases and the Kansas City area reported more than 130.

“While certain areas may experience outbreaks, this does not mean there has been a second wave,” Parson said.

Hospitals in Southwest Missouri are seeing a lot of new cases and on Wednesday and Thursday, McDonald and Jasper counties reported their first deaths from COVID-19.

"We all dreaded this day," Jasper County Health Department director Tony Moehr told the Joplin Globe. "We all recognized that a certain number of deaths occur when people get the coronavirus, and we were aware that we were seeing a fairly large increase in case rates, so we knew that death was inevitable."

There have been 982 deaths in Missouri from COVID-19.

Many communities in the state are considering whether to require residents to wear masks when in public, the Associated Press reported.

The Joplin City Council Wednesday voted 5-4 to reject an ordinance that would have required residents to wear masks if they were within 6 feet of someone else in public. The Springfield City Council this week discussed requiring masks, but no official action was taken.

Joplin Mayor Ryan Stanley voted against the proposal but said he had mixed feelings and that he believed people should wear masks. The deciding factor for him was the difficulty of enforcing the ordinance, which placed the onus on people, not businesses, to report violators.

“I envisioned a Saturday where police were getting 200 calls from people all around town reporting someone not wearing a mask," he said. "How do you divide that work and decide what a true emergency is?”

Parson, when asked about masks during his daily briefing, said it was up to local communities to decide. He said individual responsibility, not mandates, is the best way to encourage people to be careful, including warning young people that while they may not get very sick from the coronavirus, they can infect others who are at risk of complications.

“You got to stay away from places where there's crowds and stuff,” Parson said.

The distribution of federal recovery money continues, and on Thursday the federal Department of Transportation announced it was awarding Columbia $6.5 million to support the GoCOMO transit system.

The funding can be used for maintenance costs, driver salaries, protective gear and cleaning supplies, a news release stated.