Starting Friday, bars, restaurants and entertainment venues will be able to stay open until midnight, under a new public health order. Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Director Stephanie Browning announced the change in a press briefing Wednesday, pointing to a steady decline in new cases in the county over the past month.
Browning and other area leaders urged residents to remain vigilant despite the easing of restrictions, citing new coronavirus variants, like the B.1.1.7 variant which was detected in Marion County, Missouri last week. "If we have a case in Marion County, we have to assume that we have cases elsewhere in the state," Browning said.
In the same briefing, Columbia Mayor Brian Treece announced more county residents have now received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine than have tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic. The state Department of Health and Senior Services dashboard shows 22,096 Boone County residents have received their first dose, compared to 17,063 that have tasted positive over the past 11 months.
Representatives from Boone Hospital and MU Health Care also attended the briefing, to discuss efforts to streamline their respective vaccine registration processes. Missouri governor Mike Parson announced last week the state would be prioritizing a handful of major hospitals for the bulk of its weekly vaccine shipments from the federal government. As part of the new plan, MU Health Care is now the biggest recipient of doses in the region, receiving 4,000 doses every two weeks.
MU Health Chief Nursing Officer Mary Beck said the system used all 4,000 doses it was allocated last week. Beck said MU Health is working to consolidate its survey with other providers in the region. "This is going to allow us to better identify the overall demand for vaccine within our community and our region," Beck said.
Boone Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robin Blount said her hospital applied to be one of Missouri's 29 "high-throughput" vaccination sites, but the state selected Capitol Region Medical Center and St. Mary's Hospital — both in Jefferson City — instead. "What we really tried to express and show to the state was by allowing both healthcare facilities here in town, we could provide great access to all of mid-Missouri."
Columbia Mayor Brian Treece said he's also tried to sell Columbia to state leadership as a vaccination destination. "If their goal is to get vaccines in arms as quickly as possible, we have the apparatus right here," Treece said. "We have the capacity, between MU Health Care, Boone Hospital, Columbia/Boone County Public Health department to deliver 25,000 doses a week."
The state has reserved nearly a quarter of its weekly shipments from the federal government for mass vaccination events it's organizing with the Missouri National Guard. Those events have ended with hundreds of doses left over, in some instances. Health departments like Browning's have to split 8 percent of the state's weekly shipment, which this week resulted in 200 doses for Boone county. Browning said given the reduction in shipments, her department is focusing on people in the community who qualify but can't attend MU Health's clinics, due to a lack of transportation or other obstacles.