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COVID-19 Hospitalizations Hit All-Time High In Boone County

MU Health Care's main campus, near Stadium Blvd. in downtown Columbia.
Nathan Lawrence / KBIA

Weeks after a major spike in COVID-19 cases in Boone County, hospitalizations are on the rise. The Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services said the week of September 14 saw an all-time high of 61 total hospitalizations, with 11 patients on ventilators.

MU Health Care accounted for 31 of those hospitalizations, with 12 people in intensive care there Friday afternoon,  the highest number the system has seen since the start of the pandemic. Twenty one people total were in intensive care in the county on Friday. When it comes to hospital capacity, MU Health Care spokesperson Eric Maze noted, "We are constantly monitoring space needs and considerations, and we have the ability to make adjustments to open up additional beds in certain units if needs arise."

The health department's online dashboard still showed "no issues," across the board with regards to intensive care unit availability, personal protective equipment, and other measures of surge capacity. 

Credit Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services
A chart from the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Humans Services shows hospitalization data since the start of the pandemic.

Of the 58 total hospitalizations listed on the health department's dashboard Friday afternoon, 15 were Boone County residents. Columbia hospitals serve what health officials describe as a catchment area of nearly 30 counties in the surrounding area. 

The increase in hospitalizations comes amid a decline in new daily cases and active cases. The end of August and early September saw a spike in positive coronavirus tests as college students returned to Columbia. The bulk of those cases came in the 18-22 age bracket. While younger people have shown less severe symptoms related to the virus, health officials have warned of their potential for spreading the virus. 

Public Health and Human Services Director Stephanie Browning noted in early September her department had seen an uptick in community spread of the virus beyond college students. Public health experts consider hospitalizations a lagging indicator when it comes to COVID-19, meaning more people are typically hospitalized several weeks after confirmed cases of the virus spike. 

Nevertheless, on Wednesday, Browning announced her department would be loosening restrictions on bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. In response to the uptick in confirmed cases at the start of September, the health department instituted a new order mandating bars and restaurants stop serving alcohol at 9 p.m. and close altogether at 10. Under the revised order, those establishments can stay open until 10:30 p.m. and there is no cutoff on alcohol sales. 

Demand for coronavirus testing is also down, according to MU Health Care, which announced Friday it would be closing its drive-through testing facility near the Hearnes Center in Columbia. In a press release, the system said testing volumes dropped from 3,100 during the last week of August, to 2,000 the week of September 14. 

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia is a health reporter and documentary filmmaker who focuses on access to care in rural and immigrant communities. A native Spanish speaker and lifelong Missouri resident, Sebastián is interested in the often overlooked and under-covered world of immigrant life in the rural midwest. He has a bachelor's degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri and a master's degree in documentary journalism at the same institution. Aside from public health, his other interests include conservation, climate change and ecology.
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