Missouri virus hospitalizations rising as data problem fixed

Associated Press
In this April 16, 2020 file photo, registered medical assistant Elaine Lomax handles a nasal swab specimen after it was collected at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in St. Louis. With the number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization rising at alarming levels, Missouri and perhaps at least a handful of other states are unable to post accurate data on COVID-19 dashboards because of a flaw in the federal reporting system.

JEFFERSON CITY — A data-entry problem that skewed hospitalization numbers in Missouri for more than a week was fixed on Monday and the new data showed that hospitalizations were still increasing.

Last week, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Service's coronavirus dashboard had a message that said the number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 had been underreported since Oct. 17 because of "challenges entering data" to the portal used by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for collecting daily hospitalizations around the country.

The dashboard posted a message Monday saying the problem had been resolved. It reported that as of Friday, 1,399 Missourians were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, including 481 patients who were in intensive care and 174 who were on ventilators. There can be a 72-hour delay in reporting hospitalization data because that is how long hospitals have to submit it.

Hospitalizations in the state have increased steadily since September and hit record highs several times this month. The peak was Oct. 14, when 1,465 hospitalizations were reported, which was nearly four times the 375 patients who were hospitalized on July 7.

It remained unclear Monday how many other states had been affected by the HHS portal issue because some states do not use the federal agency's data collection.

An HHS spokeswoman did not respond to a question about other states but said the issues in Missouri were caused by a need to incorporate additional data elements on the state's dashboard. 

The statement said there were no missing data on the HHS systems and the two agencies worked together to fix any discrepancies.

COVID-19 has been surging in Missouri, with state health officials on Monday reporting another 1,527 confirmed cases and five more deaths from the disease. That brought the state's overall totals since the pandemic began to 171,022 confirmed cases and 2,810 deaths. 

In the face of increasing COVID-19 deaths at Missouri's seven state-operated veterans homes, the Missouri Veterans Commission said it would ask for an additional $16.4 million as it struggles to operate amid declining revenues, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch  reported.

As of Monday, 73 people at the homes had died from COVID-19 and the commission was facing the potential loss of $13 million in federal aid at the end of the year, the newspaper reported.

Revenue has dropped because no new patients are being admitted to homes that have positive COVID-19 cases, meaning only 872 of the 1,238 beds available are being used. 

"We do have concerns about cash flow," the commission's fiscal administrator, Terressa Sherlock, told commissioners.

Gov. Mike Parson ordered an independent review of the homes after more than 40 residents died in a short time in October. The review has not concluded.

Parson, who has refused to issue a statewide mask mandate, is turning to social media influencers in an effort to remind Missouri residents to practice safety precautions such as social distancing, wearing masks and hand washing. The state is asking some to participate in program that would promote the protocols on residents Instagram and Twitter accounts. 

Those who agree to participate will not be paid, said Maggie Kost, a spokeswoman for the Department of Economic Development.

TikTok star Nickolas Ray, a Missouri native with 1.7 million followers, and Jenna Fischer, an actress from Missouri with 3.1 million Instagram followers, have been asked to participate. Other possibilities include former St. Louis Cardinals star Ozzie Smith and Kansas City Royals Manager Mike Matheny, Kost said.