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Missouri, still in red zone, gains relative to other states

Austin Huguelet Springfield News-Leader

A new report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force shows Missouri saw a welcome improvement in its case numbers last week, but the situation remains far from settled.

Missouri’s per capita infection rate for the week dropped 4 percent from the prior week, good for 11th-highest among the states after ranking in the top 10 twice last month.

But adding 155 cases per 100,000 people was still well above the national average of 90 and good for an 11th straight week in the “red zone.”

Similarly, the proportion of tests coming back positive remained at 9.2 percent, twice the national average.

The report said new admissions to hospitals also remained close to the highest they’ve been in months, with the facilities reporting admitting 326 patients with confirmed or suspected infections each day.

And while the state also saw the number of deaths per 100,000 people drop to 2.5 from 3.2 the prior week, that good news came with caveats.

That bigger number came from a week in which state officials were catching up on a backlog of death certificates for people who died earlier, which likely inflated the number.

And if that week is set aside, last week’s death rate among confirmed cases remains the highest since at least mid-July.

The task force also reported that 77 percent of Missouri counties had moderate to high levels of community transmission, with 44 percent at the high, “red zone” level, both increases from the previous week.

Greene and Christian counties remained in the “red zone” group, which also included 49 other, mostly rural counties.

Columbia was one step better in the “orange zone”; Kansas City and St. Louis were two steps better in the “yellow zone.”

As usual, the task force also offered an array of recommendations to help Missouri improve its situation, saying officials need to keep testing levels up and get the word out to people about the effectiveness of masks as winter approaches and people begin staying inside where the virus spreads more easily.

“Masks must be worn indoors in all public settings and group gathering sizes should be limited,” the report said.

The report also urged the state to work with rural communities – which have seen rising caseloads in the past several weeks – “to message how masks work and protect individuals from COVID-19.”

Unlike most states, Missouri does not require people to wear masks in public, and Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican who recently tested positive for COVID-19, has ignored pleas to change that.

Several of Missouri's larger cities have imposed their own mandates, and Springfield voted Monday to extended its mask rule through Jan. 9.

The task force also urged the state to take advantage of new rapid testing equipment being distributed by the federal government to keep watch for spread among teachers, nursing home staff, first responders and other key populations.  

“Sentinel surveillance among specific populations across Missouri will help provide specific information to each community regarding local transmissions and where mitigation efforts need to be enhanced,” the report said.