Missouri ended the week that saw the most infections so far in the COVID-19 pandemic — almost 3,000 new cases in seven days — reporting the largest number of hospitalized patients since May 20.
The Department of Health and Senior Services on Saturday reported 739 people were being treated as inpatients on Wednesday, down one from the previous day. The department reports hospitalizations on a 72-hour delay.
The number of people being treated as inpatients is a key data point guiding state decisions about coronavirus policy.
"One thing you can hang your hat on a little bit is hospitalizations, because that really shouldn’t fluctuate," Randall Williams, department director, said at Gov. Mike Parson’s Thursday briefing. "Although it is a lagging indicator, it is ought to be a very good indicator of the burden of disease in your state."
From 606 people hospitalized last Sunday, the number grew to 716 on Monday and 740 on Tuesday. The last time it was that high was 743 on May 20.
Williams and Parson have touted the current hospitalizations numbers recently because they are well below the peak of early May. The largest number of inpatients came on May 5, with 984.
Along with 739 inpatients, there were 73 patients on ventilators on Wednesday, according to data gathered by the Missouri Hospital Association. Approximately 38 percent of the state’s ICU beds were available, as were nearly 8,000 hospital beds, or just under 40 percent of the total.
The department reported 385 new COVID-19 infections on Saturday, slightly below the average for the week of 422 per day. That surpassed the previous week’s average of 381.6 per day.
There have been 23,215 cases of the contagion since the first Missouri case was reported in early March.
There was at least one new case reported Saturday in 47 local health jurisdictions, with the largest number, 67, in Jasper County in hard-hit southwest Missouri. That is the region with the highest number of hospitalizations outside of St. Louis.
Boone County, which reported 118 new cases through Friday — the most of any week of the pandemic – did not issue a Saturday report because of the Independence Day holiday.
The local and state trends of repeated daily and weekly highs in new infections reflect the national and world situation. The national case count grew by an average of 47,000 a day over the past week, up from 36,200, and the world average increased by more than 12 percent, to 182,000 cases per day.
It seems likely that there will be continued large numbers of new cases reported by the state and local health officials. The daily breakdown of all tests results from the state, delayed several days as the data is processed, showed a five-day positive average of 5.4 percent last Sunday, with an average 8,471 tests per day.
Over the past week, tests at University of Missouri Hospital have shown a 5.7 percent positive rate out of 2,364 tests performed.
As mask rules are being imposed by local governments and many businesses, the emotional reactions are running strong on both sides. Opponents of a mask ordinance in Columbia are planning a 5 p.m. Monday demonstration outside of Columbia City Hall to show their displeasure with plans to vote that night on a mask ordinance for Columbia.
"We can no longer sit back politely and ignore the tyrannical decisions being forced on us by City Council," states the event announcement from a group called We’re ready to open the Columbia, MO economy. "We must demand representation, which is the true duty of these elected officials."
As of Saturday afternoon, the demonstration had attracted 20 people who said they were going. A Change.org petition against the ordinance, which had 548 signatures on Thursday afternoon, had been deleted by Saturday.
A competing petition, in support of the ordinance, had 2,255 signatures on Saturday afternoon.
Elsewhere in the state, an eastern Missouri county has seen a big increase in confirmed coronavirus cases, and most of those infected are prison inmates.
A new hot spot is St. Francois County, home to two state prisons with outbreaks. The Missouri Department of Corrections reports that 42 inmates and eight staff members have tested positive at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre.
The nearby Farmington Correctional Center has 54 confirmed cases among inmates and four among staff.
All of the cases at the two St. Francois County prisons are new enough that they are considered active.
Another prison in Charleston in southeast Missouri has reported 47 inmate illnesses and 19 staff, though the state said all but six of those inmates and three members of the staff have recovered.
A few other prisons around the state have reported smaller outbreaks, including a prison in St. Joseph with infections among 13 inmates and five staff members, and a women's prison in Vandalia, where 10 inmates and nine staff members are ill.
The state has increased testing of inmates and workers at prisons recently. The Corrections Department said that 12,548 inmates have now been tested. Just one inmate death in Missouri has been blamed on COVID-19.
Inmates testing positive are isolated until they test negative, while staff who test are placed on leave and must test negative twice before returning to work.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.