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Missouri sets a new record for COVID hospitalizations as omicron spread accelerates

Jared Wilson, RN, and Andrea Wiese, RN, care for patients in the COVID-19 unit within the Progressive Care Unit at University Hospital.
Justin Kelley
MU Health Care
Jared Wilson, RN, and Andrea Wiese, RN, care for patients in the COVID-19 unit within the Progressive Care Unit at University Hospital.

Missouri set a pandemic peaks for COVID-19 hospitalizations and daily net new admissions this week.

The Department of Health and Senior Services reported there were 2,933 inpatients, a number that grew an average of 91 per day over the previous seven days. The previous peaks were 2,862 inpatients on Dec. 22, 2020, before vaccines were widely available and 76 net new admissions per day on Nov. 8, 2020.

The inpatient count has increased 40 percent since Christmas Day and it has tripled since Nov. 1.

The record count, from Tuesday, is the latest reliable data on the burden record COVID-19 case numbers from the spreading omicron are putting on the state’s health care system. Hospitals have up to three days to report their caseloads.

Preliminary data from Thursday, unlikely to be adjusted downward, shows continued rapid growth, with another 159 net new admissions, to 3,092 inpatients.

Fewer than one in five of the state’s inpatient hospital beds remained available Tuesday. The health department report breaks the state into seven regions, and fewer than 15 percent of inpatient beds remain available in four – St. Louis, Kansas City, southeast Missouri and northwest Missouri.

The report puts numbers behind the warnings from hospital officials that the record number of new cases due to the rapidly spreading omicron variant are putting unprecedented pressure on their ability to deliver care.

Hospitals are dealing with a double burden of new patients and large numbers of staff unavailable because they, too, are infected with the coronavirus. The University of Kansas Health System, one of the largest providers in the Kansas City area, had 740 employees out sick, about 5 percent of its workforce, WDAF-TV reported.

“Because so many folks, so much staff, are sick with omicron that they can’t come in to take care of patients and so it’s a double whammy,” Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer of KU Health, said Friday morning in a Facebook briefing.

On Wednesday, representatives of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force warned they were “quite frightened” by the rapid increase in hospitalizations. There were 1,114 patients in task force hospitals, and “it would be easy for us to hit double the current number,” said Dr. Clay Dunagan, BJC HealthCare’s chief clinical officer.

In the St. Louis region, patients are waiting many hours, and in some cases days, for a bed, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

And in Springfield, Steve Edwards, CEO of CoxHealth, warned on Tuesday that not every patient could receive treatments proven to help mitigate the disease.

“Monoclonal antibodies are becoming scarce,” Edwards wrote on Twitter. “We are not able to control our supply as we are (on) a limited allocation from the (federal government). Given uncertainties, we must prioritize use toward patients with the highest risk of hospitalization and death.”

On Thursday, the state health department reported a record of 12,948 additional coronavirus infections, the fifth consecutive daily report showing record case numbers. The string was interrupted over the New Year’s holiday weekend, when there was no report for three days.

The seven-day average of reported cases on Thursday was 8,646 per day. Before it was exceeded on Tuesday, the previous record average of reported cases was 5,109 per day on Nov. 20, 2020. During the summer surge of delta variant cases, the seven-day average of reported c cases peaked at 3,037 per day on Aug. 5.

Analysis of wastewater samples collected the week after Christmas showed three locations where the omicron variant was the dominant strain, 11 where delta was the dominant strain and more than 50 where the two variants were present.

“It is the twindemic,” Stites said Friday morning. “It is omicron and delta at the same time.”

The Friday morning briefing from KU Health was presented in response to the decision by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly to issue a new COVID-19 disaster emergency declaration and companion executive orders temporarily suspending laws and regulations on health care providers.

The providers used the briefing to highlight the contrast with Missouri, where Gov. Mike Parson allowed the COVID-19 emergency declaration issued to support health care staffing to expire at midnight Dec. 31.

“Let’s say thank you to Gov. Kelly, and to the political leadership in Topeka, and different from Missouri, where they have tried to declare victory,” Stites said.

While public health and hospital leaders criticized Parson’s move, as well as efforts by Attorney General Eric Schmitt to crush out local mitigation measures, GOP legislative leadership remained supportive.

The St. Louis County Council voted Tuesday to put an indoor mask mandate back in place in reaction to record case numbers and hospitalizations. The city council in Kansas City followed suit Thursday, enacting a mask mandate for all public schools.

Schmitt announced that he will file a lawsuit seeking to halt both requirements.

“It’s not good enough, and I don’t think it’s prudent, you know, to base policy decisions based on a number of cases,” Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden said Thursday. “We’re all going to get it. I got it. You know, it’s highly unlikely here to go through the next, if you haven’t already, the next year, your life and not have COVID-19.”

This story was originally published on the Missouri Independent.

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