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Missouri Coronavirus Cases Skyrocket, And Doctors Worry Deaths Aren't Far Behind

The seven-day average of new cases in Missouri is nearly three times what it was a month ago.
Kristen Radtke for NPR
The seven-day average of new cases in Missouri is nearly three times what it was a month ago.

Missouri this week saw a dramatic increase in the number of coronavirus cases, with nearly 800 people testing positive on Thursday.

The seven-day average of new cases in Missouri is nearly three times what it was a month ago. As of Thursday, about 600 new cases were diagnosed each day. 

However, during the same period, the seven-day average of daily deaths dropped by 32%.

When cases rise, increases in deaths and hospitalizations are likely to follow, doctors warned. More than 1,060 people have died in Missouri of COVID-19 since the beginning of the outbreak. 

A rise in cases will ultimately put older and immunocompromised people at risk of serious sickness or death, doctors said.

“There’s not a one-for-one, but we do know any time there is increased cases in the community there is increased virus, and eventually it’s going to find a susceptible host,” said Dr. Alexander Garza, head of the Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.Loading...

The discrepancy between rising numbers of new cases and a steady death rate could be because more younger people are getting sick, Garza said.

Young people are less likely to be hospitalized and die of the disease. Close to 80 percent of those hospitalized at pandemic task force hospitals are over age 50, he said.

Wider availability of coronavirus testing could also result in more cases being reported, said Dr. Blessy John, an infectious disease specialist at Mercy Hospital South.

Early in the pandemic, only people who were very sick qualified for a test, she said. Now, people who don’t have symptoms can receive tests.

“We are testing more and more people in the community right now,” John said. “So of course the more we test, the more numbers we’re going to find, and that’s going to reflect on our total number within the community,” John said.

There’s also a lag between when people test positive and when they become sick enough to be hospitalized, she said. Patients often aren’t hospitalized until they’ve been sick for weeks, and the disease could take weeks longer to kill someone after they’re hospitalized.

Already hospitals are beginning to see increases in daily admissions for people sick with the coronavirus. Two days this week, more than 30 new patients were admitted at the region’s four largest hospital systems, which Garza said is a cause of concern. 

“We suspected that once we saw a rise in cases that the rise in hospitalizations and admissions that hospitalizations would soon follow, and that’s exactly what has happened,” he said.

Even if fewer people are dying from the virus, the increasing number of cases could overwhelm hospitals, a fate they escaped earlier this year.

“There’s always a set number of ICU beds, a set number of beds that hospitals can provide,” said John, of Mercy Hospital. “There’s a high chance because of the overflow, we may not be able to accommodate or even undertake the numbers that we’re going to see, which is why we’re trying to be smarter this time around."

John said new rules such as orders from St. Louis and St. Louis County officials to wear masks in public spaces are encouraging.

The rising case numbers and death counts have prompted even officials who were initially hesitant to put mask orders in place to reconsider.

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann has said he does not favor requiring people to wear masks, but he told 5 on Your Side the rising number of deaths and cases may lead him to re-examine his stance.

“We’re considering everything,” he said.

 Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Brent Jones contributed to this report.

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Copyright 2020 St. Louis Public Radio

Sarah Fentem reports on sickness and health as part of St. Louis Public Radio’s news team. She previously spent five years reporting for different NPR stations in Indiana, immersing herself deep, deep into an insurance policy beat from which she may never fully recover. A longitme NPR listener, she grew up hearing WQUB in Quincy, Illinois, which is now owned by STLPR. She lives in the Kingshighway Hills neighborhood, and in her spare time likes to watch old sitcoms, meticulously clean and organize her home and go on outdoor adventures with her fiancé Elliot. She has a cat, Lil Rock, and a dog, Ginger.