In a press briefing Friday morning, Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Director Stephanie Browning announced new orders for the county, in light of an unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases.
The restrictions apply largely to alcohol sales and restaurant and bar operations, as well as social gatherings. They come on the heels of two weeks of rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases in the county, which currently has a seven-day positivity rate of 44.6 percent, according to Browning. The seven-day positivity rate is calculated by dividing the amount of positive tests by the number of overall positive tests during that time period.
The current positivity rate is the highest the county has seen since the start of the pandemic, and nearly 30 percentage points higher than the previous peak of 15.8 percent, which came at the start of July.
Boone County has recorded a positivity rate of 44.6% for the week or 8/21/2020 - 8/27/2020. This is an increase from the previous rate of 10.6%. For reference, there were 1,406 less people tested and 210 more positives than the previous week. pic.twitter.com/Sff9BLs1cE
— Columbia/Boone Co. Public Health & Human Services (@CoMo_HealthDept) August 28, 2020
The spike in cases is especially pronounced in the 18-22 age bracket, which the health department started reporting earlier this week. In that age range, the current seven-day positivity rate is 60.4 percent. That number is more than 20 percentage points higher than in the preceding week, which shows the rapid increase in cases.
At the press briefing, Browning said her department anticipated an increase in cases but has been surprised by the speed of the spike. "Anybody that knows me knows that in June I was like, 'oh what's going t happen in August?' I didn't expect this rise this fast," Browning said.
In response to the dramatic increase in cases, Browning issued a new public health order for the city of Columbia and Boone County.
The order keeps in place many of the restrictions implemented by previous orders, but adds provisions regarding the sale of alcohol in restaurants and bars. Some of the highlights of the order include:
- Restaurants and bars serving alcohol are required to stop serving alcohol at 9:00 p.m. and must close no later than 10:00 p.m.
- There shall be no carry-out, curb-side or off-premises delivery of alcoholic beverages after 9:00 p.m.
- Restaurants that do not serve alcohol are not required to close at 10:00 p.m.
- All entertainment venues (which include nightclubs, movie theaters, and dance halls, among others) are required to close at 10:00 p.m.
- Entertainment venues which serve alcohol are required to stop serving alcohol at 9:00 p.m.
- All other intentional gatherings or gathering places not specifically referenced in this order are limited to 20 people, including both public and private gatherings.
The order took immediate effect Friday morning. Browning said the restrictions on operating hours for restaurants and bars serving alcohol came from observations the health department had made over the the past weeks. She said a number of violations seemed to come in the late evening, and were related to alcohol consumption.
University of Missouri chancellor and UM System President Mun Choi justified the decision to keep in-person classes on campus by pointing to local hospital capacity. Refencing the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's decision to go online-only earlier this month, Choi said MU is in a better position. “We have more hospital beds that are staffed, and the number of ICU beds is larger in Boone County by a factor of three,” Choi said.
Choi pointed out that, of the 306 students who have tested positive so far, there are only four or five that are being isolated in a university facility. He said MU has a capacity of 60 isolation units at the university, but that they also have contracts with hotels to ramp up capacity if necessary. While Choi said young people recover at a very high rate and no MU students have been hospitalized yet, Browning pointed out that students can still accelerate the spread of the virus in the community.
As of Thursday, 2,235 people in Boone County have tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, including seven who have died. People in the 18-22 age bracket account for 801 cases total, and there has been a 220 percent increase in cases in that age bracket over the past seven days.