Missouri hospitals brace for surge in COVID-19 cases

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JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — Nearly 2,000 people are hospitalized in Missouri currently for COVID-19, and health officials are concerned the state is headed down the same path it was last winter. 

The Missouri Hospital Association (MHA) said it’s not only COVID patients that need care right now. Flu cases compared to this same time last year have more than doubled. Gov. Mike Parson said Tuesday, the state and hospitals are prepared but health care providers are bracing for another surge. 

“We are in a moment right now that the numbers are trending in the wrong direction,” a spokesman for MHA Dave Dillon said. “And it’s predominantly still the delta variant.”

In the past week, Missouri has reported more than 13,000 new COVID cases, averaging 1,885 a day. Almost two weeks ago, a St. Louis City resident tested positive for the first confirmed case of omicron in the state. It’s a variant, Dillon said, that is worrying Missouri hospitals. 

“Omicron spreads, at least early indications, faster than Delta and Delta spread like wildfire,” Dillon said. 

He said the state is not in a crisis yet, but locally, some health care providers are. 

“We had a conversation with one of our CEOs [chief executive officer] who made 150 calls to find places that he could place critically-ill COVID patients,” Dillon said. “If we’re seeing that now, the real question is what are we going to be seeing whenever there are peaks and at what level will it peak?”

Roughly 53% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated with more than 890,000 booster shots administered. Dillon said it’s the north and western part of Missouri feeling the brunt of rising hospitalizations and cases. 

“Where it’s most profound right now is Kansas City, north, northeast, and northwest Missouri,” Dillon said. 

Over in St. Louis, more than 90% of hospitals are full. In Springfield, Cox Health said it has 80 patients hospitalized with COVID. At the peak of the pandemic, roughly 3,000 people were hospitalized with COVID. Currently, there are 1,925 COVID patients in Missouri hospitals. 

“We know how to be able to come in and bring in support into the hospitals whether that’s labor shortages or temporary facilities if we need that,” Parson said. Tuesday. “We’re there to support the hospitals but we know a lot more about this situation than we ever have before.”

Previously, the state has contracted with staffing agencies to help bring nurses, doctors, and hospital employees to Missouri. Parson said that’s a possibility going forward if needed. 

“At some point we’re going to have to say, okay, the pandemic is over and we’re going to have to deal with the situation at hand with what we have, and we aren’t always going to be able to be under an emergency clause,” Parson said. “The future of where COVID goes and what the next variant might be, I don’t know and I don’t think anybody does, but I think we are much better prepared to handle the situation than we were by far 20 months ago.”

Dillon said Missouri hospitals have enough supplies and PPE, but the shortage is in staff. 

“While we have the capacity, meaning physical beds and physical space, sometimes we don’t have the staff to use that capacity,” Dillon said. “We came into the pandemic with a staffing challenge on the precipice of looking at for the next decade a long-term staffing crisis. It is worse now because individuals that work in these organizations have now for almost two years. They are tired.”

He said health care providers across the state are using staffing agencies to have enough workers, especially since the number of COVID and flu cases are expected to rise.

As for flu numbers in the state. At this same time last year, there was a total of 537 positive influenza cases. As of Dec. 4, there was a season-to-date total from the beginning of October of 1,373 positive cases. 

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