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Another day, another record for new cases in Missouri — now a federal 'red zone'
MISSOURI

Another day, another record for new cases in Missouri — now a federal 'red zone'

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COVID-19 testing brisk in St. Louis

Mason Polk, of Town & Country, gets his nasal cavity swabbed on Friday, July 17, 2020, by Shay Kasyupa, a registered nurse with Affinia Healthcare, at a combined walk-ip and drive- thru testing location at the health system's South Broadway office. Cars lined up for several blocks to get free testing with no appointment necessary, prompting about 130 individual tests administered before afternoon. "We're always busy here," said Michelle Radomski, asst. Vice President of Heath Center Operations. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — A report this week by a White House coronavirus task force added Missouri to 21 states considered in the “red zone” for new COVID-19 cases and urged leaders to consider more restrictions in virus hot spots.

The report was made public Wednesday as Missouri topped its single-day high for new cases for the 10th time this month. The state added 1,927 cases, 154 more than the previous high set a day earlier.

State health officials also reported seven additional deaths Wednesday and an increase in the percentage of tests coming back positive, up to 9.6% from 8.6% one day prior. At the beginning of July about 4% of tests came back positive.

The federal report, dated Sunday, was distributed to state leaders. Missouri was added to the highest warning category after its rate of cases rose last week to 131 cases per 100,000 people.

Missouri is still far below the worst rates in the U.S., including those in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, where rates rose to more than 300 per 100,000 residents last week. States that have an infection rate of more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents are considered in the red zone.

The report, made public by The New York Times, also identified the areas of Missouri that have the most serious outbreaks.

Several popular tourist destinations were flagged: Branson and its nearby counties; Hannibal, the popular boyhood home of Mark Twain; and several counties around the Lake of the Ozarks.

Counties in the state’s bootheel, Pemiscot and Dunklin, and areas around Joplin, Sedalia and Bolivar were also among the red zones.

The metro areas around St. Louis and Kansas City account for most of the cases in the state, far more than most hot spots, but were considered yellow zones by the task force because they recorded positivity rates below 10% last week.

St. Louis County reported a 9.1% rate as of Wednesday. St. Louis is reporting about an 8% rate, according to the most recent data from July 13.

The federal report recommended that all red-zone areas close gyms and bars and limit gatherings to no more than 10 people.

For areas in yellow zones, the report recommended also closing bars, keeping gyms at 25% capacity and limiting gatherings to 25 people or fewer.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced this week that the county would revert to gathering limits of 50 people or fewer and business occupancy would be capped at 25%. Page also ordered bars to close at 10 p.m. beginning Friday.

Page announces 7 rollback measures to combat coronavirus

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page finishes addressing media after announcing seven measures on Monday, July 27, 2020, that restrict business openings, public gatherings and address school safety amid an uptick in cases of the novel coronavirus pandemic in the county. Speaking at the St. Louis County Health Department in Berkeley, Page said the spread of COVID-19 among young people has prompted early nightly closings of bars where many of them gather. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson has not closed all bars but did this week order four city bars and restaurants to close for two weeks after allegedly failing to follow social distancing orders. Krewson said in a video briefing Wednesday that she may consider more restrictions on bars if cases continue to rise.

St. Louis has already limited gyms to 25% capacity. Gatherings in the city are now restricted only by a 75% business capacity limit.

The federal task force report also recommended that Missouri should “mandate and enforce wearing of face masks outside the home” in counties with rolling positivity rates greater than 5%.

Mask mandates

St. Louis city and St. Louis County have mask mandates. The health board in neighboring Jefferson County, where the positivity rate was at 7.9% in mid-July, opted amid protests Tuesday to not vote on a mask mandate but instead push a public information campaign encouraging masks.

There is also no mask mandate in St. Charles County, though county leaders have recommended that businesses require masks. A positivity rate for St. Charles County was not immediately available Wednesday, but the county has reported the third-most virus cases of any county in the state over the past three weeks, according to the federal report.

In Branson, among the red zone areas identified in the state, the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday voted 4-1 to require masks in indoor public places. The board came to the decision despite opposition from many in the community, including comedian and famous Branson-area local Yakov Smirnoff.

“I’m hoping that you can make this an island of freedom and choice in the sea of hatred and fear,” Smirnoff told the board, according to the Springfield News-Leader.

Joplin leaders also passed a mask mandate earlier this month, but other red zone areas like Hannibal and counties around Lake of the Ozarks do not have mask requirements.

The Post-Dispatch on Wednesday asked Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, why Missouri had not issued a state-level mask requirement for counties with a positivity rate of 5% or more.

Williams said the state takes into account other data in addition to the positivity rate, such as hospitalizations, ICU admissions and ventilator capacity.

“So we make that decision holistically when we’re looking at that,” he said. “We’re not treating one piece of data. We’re looking at the entire picture.”

Asked if he thought a mask mandate would help drive down infection rates, Williams said, “What we’ve consistently recommended, by the governor and me, is to use handwashing and to social distance. And if you can’t social distance, then you need to wear a mask. And that’s wherever you live in Missouri.”

Missouri on Wednesday reached 46,750 total confirmed virus cases and 1,220 COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said Wednesday that it’s not clear why Missouri’s case rates are rising higher than many other states, including neighboring Illinois, which was considered in the yellow zone in the task force report.

Illinois reported 72 cases per capita last week and a positivity rate of 4.5%, the report said.

“It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why that is,” Garza said, adding that it was possible that data backlogs may have skewed the state’s weekly numbers. “But the majority of it is due to transmission in the community,” he said.

Garza said the area’s major hospitals have also seen higher positivity rates in tests completed this month in their own labs, which don’t see the same type of backlogs as the state.

“The reason (Missouri) is in the red is because there is more virus circulating,” Garza said, adding, “The way to turn that around is wearing masks, avoiding large crowds and social distancing.”

Jack Suntrup of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

Note from Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services: The discrepancy in the number of deaths on July 19, 2020, was due a duplicate record being discovered by the Missouri DHSS. 

Note from St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force regarding the numbers for July 20: There was a delay in reporting some test results leading to the increase in reported hospital admissions.

Editor's note: This chart has been adjusted to reflect suspected and confirmed cases in hospitalized patients in early June. Previous updates only had confirmed case numbers.

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NOTE: On Saturday, April 17, 2021, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) noted on its dashboard that it discovered a database error that was causing individuals with both a positive PCR and antigen result to be counted as both a probable and confirmed case. This correction removed 11,454 cases that were counted twice in previous probable antigen cases, according the notation.

NOTE: Beginning Monday, March 8, 2021, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) began posting county-level data showing "probable" COVID-19 cases detected by antigen testing. Using the historical data from the DHSS dashboard, we reconfigured this graph to include that number in the total.

NOTE: Missouri updated its data dashboard on Sept. 28. 2020, to delete duplicate cases. This resulted in a decrease of total cases which caused the daily count to reflect a negative number.

NOTE: On Saturday, April 17, 2021, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) noted on its dashboard that it discovered a database error that was causing individuals with both a positive PCR and antigen result to be counted as both a probable and confirmed case. This correction removed 11,454 cases that were counted twice in previous probable antigen cases, according the notation.

NOTE: Beginning Monday, March 8, 2021, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) began posting county-level data showing “probable” COVID-19 cases detected by antigen testing. Using historical data from the DHSS dashboard, we reconfigured this graph to include that number.

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