Hospital and health officials across Missouri sounded the alarm Wednesday for sharply increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases, with some saying 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 percent of the licensed beds. At the same time, Steele said, just more than 100 of the system's employees are out with COVID-19.
Steele said the numbers are about 45 percent 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 percent 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 Wednesday.
Katie Towns, the director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, said 473 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the county Tuesday, the highest number in the county since the end of 2020.
In the past week, the county has seen a 71 percent 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."
And BJC HealthCare in St. Louis said it would begin postponing all elective procedures beginning today. 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 filed a lawsuit Wednesday to halt the mandate.
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 in a statement he sued to stop the mandate, arguing a new state law concerning the authority of local political subdivisions to issue health order prohibits the mandate.
He has previously filed lawsuits for COVID-19 mitigation measures and has threatened school districts and local health departments with lawsuits.