In a normal year, hospitals in rural southern Missouri see a lot of snake bites and rolled ankles.
They’re ailments you acquire canoeing in the early autumn sun or “hold-my-beer-and-watch-this-ing” at night, as an emergency doctor in the area who requested anonymity because he had not been given clearance to speak on behalf of his hospital told The Daily Beast.
“Obviously, this year is really different,” said the doctor, who noted that he contracts out to several hospitals in the area, sometimes driving three hours from his home to serve rural communities coping with COVID-19 outbreaks. Although New York and Washington were dealing with overflowing hospitals and piles of body bags in March, the Missouri doctor told The Daily Beast he didn’t treat a coronavirus-positive patient until May.
Things increased slowly at first, but the past six weeks have been a test of fortitude for the doctor, his nurses, respiratory therapists, and their facilities staff. And regardless of who prevails in a presidential election that saw little campaigning in this erstwhile swing state, the scale of the suffering and loss of life here—coupled with lingering pandemic skepticism—demonstrates the size of the hole out of which the country must still dig itself.
“I get dirty looks going into the gas station wearing a mask,” said the doctor. “It’s just unfathomable the disconnect between being one of the worst areas for COVID, while people who are not necessarily healthy at a baseline are still just acting like there is absolutely nothing going on.”
As of Tuesday, Missouri had reported a total of 190,424 cumulative COVID-19 infections and 3,064 deaths. About 16,111 of those cases had been recorded in the past seven days, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard. Though there have been significant improvements in the state’s ability to test for the virus, its positivity rate measured over the past seven days was a staggering 28.6 percent. A popular threshold for a percent positive being “too high” is 5 percent.
A number of other largely rural states in the Midwest were struggling on Tuesday, with North and South Dakota in particular emerging as nationwide hotspots. North Dakota has seen a 167-percent increase in cases in just one month. Nationwide, on Tuesday alone, at least 540 new deaths and 93,581 new cases were reported. Those numbers are even more concerning when factoring in the 232,529 Americans who’ve already lost their lives from the virus—an amount some experts see doubling by the end of February 2021.
And the pandemic picture is a disastrous one even in rural areas that have failed to capture much of the national spotlight.
Missouri hit a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations for the fourth day in a row on Sunday, when the health department reported a total of 1,649 patients hospitalized with the virus. According to reporting from the St. Louis Public Radio, the rise in rural cases have driven the state’s numbers. When smaller rural hospitals must refer a majority of patients to larger ones in other parts
O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — With the number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization rising at alarming levels, Missouri and perhaps a handful of other states are unable to post accurate data on COVID-19 dashboards because of a flaw in the federal reporting system.
Since Tuesday, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Service’s coronavirus dashboard has posted a message that the total number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 has been underreported since Oct. 17. The note blamed “challenges entering data” to the portal used by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for collecting daily hospitalizations around the country.
It wasn’t immediately clear on Friday how many states are impacted since some states rely on their own hospitalization counts, not HHS data collection. HHS did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.
But The COVID Tracking Project said in a blog post that it has “identified five other states with anomalies in their hospitalization figures” that could be tied to the HHS reporting problem.
The project noted that the number of reported intensive care unit patients in Kansas had decreased from 80 to one without explanation. It said Wisconsin’s hospitalization figures stayed unexpectedly flat while other indicators worsened. And it said Georgia, Alabama, and Florida reported only partial updates to hospitalization data.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokeswoman Kristi Zears confirmed that the “ICU admission data displayed on our website is not current. We did post a notice on our dashboard today to convey that as well. We anticipate the issue will be resolved for our Monday update.”
A spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said the state’s reporting was accurate, with the number of hospitalizations holding steady for one day, Wednesday, before rising again on Thursday. A Georgia Department of Public Health spokeswoman said the department was unaware of any problems with its data. Health department representatives in the other states mentioned in the blog didn’t immediately respond to Associated Press requests for comment.
In Missouri, the loss of accurate hospitalization data comes as confirmed cases continue to rise. On Friday, Missouri reported 1,811 new cases of COVID-19, and 31 additional deaths. Since the onset of the pandemic, Missouri has cited 164,534 confirmed cases and 2,688 deaths.
Missouri also has seen a steady rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations since September. The state reached record levels of hospitalizations several times earlier this month, with every region except St. Louis seeing record or near-record spikes. Since July 7, when 375 people were hospitalized statewide, that number has nearly quadrupled to a peak of 1,465 hospitalizations on Oct. 14.
The problem is especially worrisome in rural areas, where some hospitals are nearing capacity. Others are using makeshift buildings or previously vacant hospital wings to serve overflow patients. Some are simply redirecting people to larger hospitals.
State health department spokeswoman Lisa Cox said the federal hospital reporting system, known as TeleTracking, went down. “As a result they experienced underreporting – so hospitalization numbers were lower than they should’ve
ST. LOUIS — Missouri’s first licensed marijuana dispensaries opened this weekend in the St. Louis area with long lines.
The two dispensaries run by N’Bliss opened Saturday in Ellisville and Manchester. Another dispensary is expected to open Monday in the Kansas City area nearly two years after Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment to allow the sale of medical marijuana.
To buy the drug, people need approval from a doctor and a state medical marijuana card. Prices are expected to be high initially because the supply is limited in the state at this stage. N’Bliss was charging $125 for an eighth of an ounce of marijuana when it opened Saturday.
Kim Haller said she stood in line Saturday because she has long been frustrated with the high cost of medications and injections she uses to treat her multiple sclerosis. Recently, Haller said she had been buying marijuana from a licensed caregiver.
“It helps with my spasticity, which means my muscles don’t move like I like them to, and sleep,” Haller, 54, of St. Peters, said of the marijuana treatment.
In the Kansas City area, Brenda Dougherty said she hopes to be one of Fresh Green’s first customers when it opens this week in Lee’s Summit. The 57-year-old from Warrensburg said she believes marijuana will help relieve her chronic pain condition.
“I don’t want to take any more pills,” she said. “I know this will help. To be quite honest, I have tried it and, yes, it does help.”
The Missouri Department of Health and Human Services expects most of the state’s 192 approved dispensaries to be open by the end of the year.
“Missouri patients have always been our North Star as we work to implement the state’s medical marijuana program,” Dr. Randall Williams, department director, said in a news release. “We greatly appreciate how hard everyone has worked so that patients can begin accessing a safe and well-regulated program.”