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Health officials react to Missouri's return to COVID 'red zone'

Missouri is in the 'red zone' for high COVID-19 transmission rates and an increase in cases.

Over the last week statewide, cases have gone up 17%, hospitalizations have increased by 27% and COVID-19 related deaths have risen by 47%.

The White House COVID-19 team releases a weekly COVID-19 State Profile Report with updated percentages and case numbers. Tuesday's report shows Missouri ranks 41 out of 50 states for vaccination rates, with 50.8% of Missourians fully vaccinated.

MU Health Care reports the majority of hospitalizations are unvaccinated patients. Dr. Laura Hesemann is the MU Health Care chief of staff. She explained her thoughts with Missouri's low vaccination rates.

"It can be an emotional drain [on our staff] when it feels like there is more that can be done to prevent hospitalizations," Dr. Hesemann said. "Some of the hospitalizations are just what we're used to, but we all would really like to see higher vaccination rates to help us slow the spread in the community."

MU Health Care currently has 46 COVID-19 inpatients, 17 intensive care unit patients and eight patients on ventilators. Dr. Hesemann explained how current hospitalization numbers are showing high volume.

"There's certainly an increase happening right now that's been building over the last couple of weeks," Dr. Hesemann said. "We'll have to wait and see how it plays out, but it's looking like the beginning of a surge."

The White House report reflects statewide transmission data, that can then be broken down into individual counties.

Even though Missouri is in the red zone, Dr. Hesemann explained how Boone County is in a better spot than a year ago.

"I don't think that we are yet in a situation where we need to revisit or change the things that we are doing," Dr. Hesemann said. "The same things that have been effective for the last 12 months are still effective, especially getting your vaccine."

Boone County has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state, with 53.6% fully vaccinated. The spokesperson for the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services explained how the statewide increases affect Boone County.

"Based on the statewide numbers, it's important for folks to keep an eye on that and make decisions about what they're comfortable doing right around the holidays," Sara Humm said. "At this time, there aren't any discussions to put any health orders [restrictions] back in place but we encourage folks to follow CDC guidance."

The White House report shows all Missouri counties are at risk of high transmission. Humm explained how Missouri being back in the red zone in December of 2021 is different than when the state was in the red zone in December 2020.

"Even though we are back in the red zone, we are not seeing nearly the volume of cases that we saw [around this time] last year," Humm said. "Where we're at right now is a much better place than we were last fall and winter."

The report also shows 26% of Missouri hospitals are facing staff shortages. With the omicron variant now present in California and Minnesota, mid-Missouri hospitals are expecting the variant to make its way to the state eventually.

Dave Dillon, spokesperson for the Missouri Hospitals Association, explained how the current increase in hospitalizations can affect resources for the this year's flu season.

"One of the concerns we have is that we are dealing with COVID-19, the delta variant, possibly the omicron variant and this year's flu season," Dillon said. "We're very nervous that we won't see the suppression of the flu like we saw last year, creating a surge that overwhelms our hospitals."

There are currently no detected COVID-19 omicron cases in Missouri. Updated statewide data can be found on the Department of Health and Senior Service's website.

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