Missouri health chief seeks racial data on coronavirus cases

Missouri health chief seeks racial data on coronavirus cases

JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — Missouri’s health chief said Wednesday that he was directing medical professionals to provide racial data about patients who become ill or die from the coronavirus as some black lawmakers raised concern about the lack of such information.

Missouri so far has not released data about the race of people who test positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 or who die from its complications. Health director Randall Williams said that was because about 40 percent of medical providers had not been reporting that information, although they had been reporting patients’ ages.

“We sent out a directive today to reinforce that we do want that demographic, because we think it’s really important,” Williams said in response to a question from The Associated Press.

Some other jurisdictions already have been reporting racial data. Of the victims whose demographic information was publicly shared by officials — nearly 3,300 of the nation’s 13,000 deaths thus far — about 42 percent were black, according to an AP analysis. African-Americans account for roughly 21 percent of the total population in the areas covered the analysis.

During legislative debate Wednesday on a multibillion-dollar budget bill, some black Missouri lawmakers criticized the lack of data on how COVID-19 has affected black residents.

Rep. Tommie Pierson Jr., D-St. Louis, said it would be “disturbing” if the state had data on race and was not sharing it.

“If the data is supposed to be being collected, then we need to ensure that it is and that it is shared with those making decisions,” Pierson said.

Missouri’s information about coronavirus-related deaths also has lagged in other regards.

Whereas data collected by Johns Hopkins University showed 86 Missouri deaths as of Wednesday afternoon, the state’s figures showed just 58. Williams said the state must take time to vet each reported death, because it was the source of official data supplied to the federal government.

St. Louis County and city have accounted for just over half of the statewide total of 3,327 COVID-19 cases reported by the Missouri health department as of Wednesday.

The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. The vast majority of people recover.

Missouri National Guard Adjutant General Levon Cumpton said Wednesday that the Guard was converting a hotel in  Florissant into a medical center that would have more than 100 beds.

Leaders of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, made up of the region’s largest hospitals, said that the peak of the pandemic in the St. Louis area would probably happen in two to three weeks.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, a Democrat, sent a letter to Parson requesting that the Guard help transport patients and equipment, provide additional security at hospitals and fill in for staff at testing sites, among other things.

In neighboring St. Charles County, a new outbreak was reported at a psychiatric hospital. St. Charles County officials say 20 staff members and three patients at CenterPointe Hospital had tested positive since March 28.

Another alarming rise in confirmed cases was reported at a nursing home. Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker cited 34 confirmed cases and three deaths at Grandview Healthcare in Washington, Mo., about 50 miles southwest of St. Louis.

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