As COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to surge, a small hospital in central Missouri is asking residents of the Lake of the Ozarks area to honor the work of health providers and take precautions during holiday events.
In a letter posted to the Lake Regional Medical Center website, Dane Henry, CEO of the Lake Regional Health System, said the issue for his 116-bed hospital and associated clinics is that COVID-19 patients need more care and the staff is weary from months of hard work.
"You see, it's not simply the number of COVID-19 patients that stresses the health care system at all levels," Henry wrote. "It's the additional resources needed to care for COVID patients appropriately that eventually affects other patients and caregivers. Hospitals throughout Missouri and the country are concerned about bed and staffing availability, and staffing fatigue because of the recent surge."
The rapid increase in cases that has led to record hospitalizations continued unabated Wednesday, with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reporting 4,587 new infections with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. That is the 14th consecutive day of 3,000 or more cases and the ninth day this month with 4,000 or more cases.
Nov. 7 was the first day of the pandemic with at least 4,000 cases in Missouri. There have been 253,473 cases of COVID-19 since the first was identified in the state. Twenty-four additional deaths reported Wednesday bring the total since mid-March to 3,477.
The standoff between Gov. Mike Parson and health care providers over a statewide mask order was no closer to a resolution Wednesday. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that a new study from St. Louis University found that masks have controlled the spread of infection in St. Louis and St. Louis County.
Parson, speaking to KTVI television on Tuesday, repeated that he would not issue a statewide mask mandate.
Hospitalizations reached a new peak in Missouri on Tuesday, according to preliminary data reported Wednesday by the Department of Health and Senior Services. The department's dashboard showed 2,629 people were being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals across the state, 41 higher than the day before.
Missouri is averaging 43 net new hospitalizations over the past seven days and the seven-day average of total hospitalizations is also at a new peak of 2,510.
At Lake Regional Medical Center, there have been at least 10 people hospitalized for COVID-19 every day since September, Henry wrote, and inpatient numbers reached a high of 27 on Oct. 14. On Tuesday, he wrote, 24 of the 85 inpatients were COVID-19 positive and, throughout the fall, "we have treated hundreds more COVID-19 cases in our Emergency Department and Express Care locations."
The number of tests being administered is increase and so is the positive rate, Henry wrote.
The hospital serves Camden, Laclede, Miller, Morgan and Pulaski counties. Camden County is the worst hit of those jurisdictions, he wrote.
"According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the county's positivity rate was 55.7 percent for the seven-day period," Henry wrote. "To date, 43 Camden County residents have died from this virus."
The rates for new infections as a share of the population of the five counties aren't among the state's worst, but the sheer numbers are daunting. There were 623 positive test results in the seven days ending Friday, Henry wrote, and state health department data shows 1,644 new cases this month. In terms of relative ranking, Miller County has the 50th-highest rate for new infections out of 117 local health jurisdictions for the month and Pulaski County is 110th.
At the beginning of the pandemic, it took from March 7 to April 2 before there were more than 1,644 cases statewide.
In his letter, Henry asked for residents of the region to show their appreciation of health care workers, first responders, teachers, grocery store workers and others by displaying a white ribbon of support.
He also asked them to take precautions to stop the spread of the contagion.
"Help each other," Henry wrote. "If you're not already, please do two simple things consistently: practice social distancing and wear masks in public. And as you make Thanksgiving plans, please keep in mind that COVID-19 can be especially harmful for seniors and individuals who have underlying health conditions."
The study from St. Louis University shows that infections in St. Louis and St. Louis County were 40 percent lower over the past 12 weeks than in surrounding areas where masks are not required. In October, St. Louis County was 104th of 117 local health jurisdictions for the per capita rate of new infections and the city of St. Louis was 110th. So far this month, St. Louis County is 75th for new per capita infections and St. Louis is 107th.
The study showed masks had an especially beneficial effect protecting high-risk groups, cutting transmission in more densely populated areas and among minorities, who have been hit harder than whites, the Post-Dispatch reported.
Parson, however, was adamant in his interview with KTVI that he would not change course on masks.
"The masks are important. We all know that. We all believe that they really have a good purpose. But when you start mandating masks, from the governor's position, one person, what do you do with the vaccine?" Parson said. "You know, the vaccine is going to be here in 30, 40 days. Do you really want the governor of the state of Missouri to say, 'Every man, woman, and child is going to be mandated to take a vaccine,' 'cause that's the road you go down."
The Missouri Independent is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.