Active COVID-19 cases in Boone County reach highest level of pandemic

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Boone County is experiencing more active cases of COVID-19 than ever before.

Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services reported 1,578 active cases Wednesday afternoon after influxes of more than 300 new reported cases each Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday amid a national surge due to the highly transmissible omicron variant. Before this week, the previous record for active local cases came Nov. 22, 2020, when there were 1,212.

The closure of offices and test sites over New Year's weekend could have caused an inflation of numbers early this week, which included 495 cases reported Monday (comprising last Friday through Monday), 329 additional cases on Tuesday and an identical tally of 329 additional cases on Wednesday.

The 332 cases reported for Monday alone represent a single-day high for the county. The numbers relate to when test results come back positive, not when they're collected.

"After any sort of holiday or event where we expect a lot of people to gather, usually about two weeks after that is what is looked at to tell what kind of impact it had on transmission," said Sara Humm, health department spokesperson. "Other factors include local K-12 students starting school again, and college students coming back to town potentially could lead to an increase in cases."

More: At-home COVID-19 test kits are scarce. Here's how you can get tested.

Despite the larger number of active cases, the number of patients in Boone County hospitals due to complications related to COVID-19 is lower than in November 2020, with 133 individuals hospitalized now compared to over 150 then.

Of those hospitalized as of Wednesday, 35 are in intensive care units; 17 are on ventilators; and only 12 are Boone County citizens.

The most recent report from the state's Sewershed Surveillance Project indicates an increase in the omicron variant in mid-Missouri but that delta remains the "variant with the highest percentage" of detected cases, Humm said.

MU Health Care reported Wednesday that 63 of the 86 patients in its care related to COVID-19 are unvaccinated, including a majority of those in the ICU or on ventilators.

"MU Health Care is currently seeing a growing number of patients requesting COVID-19 testing and seeking treatment for symptoms," spokesperson Eric Maze wrote in an email Wednesday. "We continue to monitor our staffing levels closely and make adjustments as needed. We have developed contingency plans and stand ready to accommodate potential staffing challenges."

The health department has reported 192 deaths related to COVID-19 in Boone County since the start of the pandemic. Two deaths were reported Tuesday. The first individual was in the 70-74 age group and died Dec. 27. The second was in the same age group and died Dec. 29.

The health department continues to urge citizens to continue risk mitigation strategies such as vaccination, masking, avoiding large groups, washing hands and staying home when sick.

More: Boone County COVID-19 vaccine tracker: 60% of people fully vaccinated

Hospital officials discuss sharp increase of COVID-19 cases

Hospital and health officials across Missouri sounded the alarm Wednesday over sharply increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases, with some saying like Columbia they are seeing more confirmed cases than at any time since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Leaders of Kansas City-area hospitals said in a phone conference that they are trying to treat the patients and respond to an intense demand for COVID-19 testing while also facing staffing shortages.

Dr. Mark Steele, executive chief clinical officer at University Health, said the system's two hospitals in the Kansas City area are treating 98 patients with COVID-19, who are filling 25% of the licensed beds. At the same time, Steele said, just over 100 of the system’s employees are out with COVID-19.

Steele said the numbers are about 45% higher than the system's previous high mark from last winter and from the prior delta surge.

The hospital is also dealing with more than 1,000 calls a day to its call centers from people seeking tests, with employees able to perform about 450 tests per day, he said. Testing positivity rates reached 35% in the last week, “by far” the system's highest positivity rate, he said.

Health officials in the Springfield area echoed the bleak message during a briefing on Wednesday.

More: Petition seeks special Columbia school board meeting to reinstate COVID-19 mask mandate

Katie Towns, the director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, said 473 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the county on Tuesday, the highest number in the county since the end of 2020.

In the past week, the county has seen a 71% increase in new cases, bringing the seven-day average to new 248 cases per day. A month ago, the county was averaging 99 cases per day.

“We are seeing the beginning of what will be the worst surge yet,” Towns said. “There will be a significant and aggressive spread of this disease. And we are bracing for the impact that it will have. In a few short weeks, every part of our community could in fact be impacted from our healthcare systems to our schools to our workplaces.”

More: Missouri health department finds omicron variant in Columbia wastewater, other areas of state

And BJC HealthCare in St. Louis said it would begin postponing all elective procedures beginning Thursday. The hospital said it has more than 500 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals as of Wednesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

On Tuesday night, the St. Louis County Council voted to reimpose a mask mandate in the county, effective Wednesday. But Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt vowed after the vote to quickly challenge the mandate in court.

In supporting the mandate, Councilwoman Lisa Clancy read a letter from 200 St. Louis-area doctors supporting the mask requirement.

“Our hospitals are overwhelmed. We are tired. We are close to breaking. We need quick action,” the letter said.

But Schmitt, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, said he would sue to stop the mandate, calling it “blatantly illegal.” He has previously filed lawsuits over COVID-19 mitigation measures and has threatened school districts and local health departments with lawsuits.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Boone County experiencing more active COVID cases than ever before

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