BRANSON, Mo. (AP) — Coronavirus infections increased at a higher rate in several rural Missouri counties over the past two weeks compared with the state’s major metropolitan areas.
Although many more people have been sickened by the virus in major metropolitan areas including St. Louis and Kansas City, the infection rate relative to population has spiked in some rural counties. Health department data show the highest two-week increase in case rates per 100,000 people in Taney, Pettis, Cooper, New Madrid, Knox, Holt and Marion counties.
At least 269 people have been sickened by the virus over the past two weeks in Taney County, home to the tourist destination of Branson. Cumulatively, state data show 685 have been sickened in the county, which borders Arkansas. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates about 56,000 people live in the county.
A spokeswoman for Cox Medical Center Branson said Friday that the rural hospital was not overwhelmed because most infected people were recovering from the virus at home.
The Branson Board of Aldermen voted last month to require face masks in most public places, despite pushback from businesses and residents, to slow the spread of the virus.
Les Carpenter said business at the board game store he owns with his wife dropped when the virus first struck Missouri in March and took another hit when the city required masks. He said the number of customers had been halved at Boardgame Cafe, which sells board games but also charges admission for customers to borrow and play games at the store.
Carpenter said some of his local regulars told him they were not comfortable wearing a mask and would rather stay home. He said others took the recent mask mandate as a worrisome sign and started limiting their public outings to necessities such as grocery shopping.
“For many people, that sends the message that it’s not safe to be out,” he said.
Carpenter said the only reason the couple could keep the cafe open was because of an uptick in board game sales by people stuck at home.
Statewide, coronavirus cases continue to rise. The Department of Health and Senior Services reported another 1,473 confirmed cases Friday, bringing the cumulative total in Missouri to at least 65,270.
St. Louis has tallied 5,382 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Friday, with another 97 people suspected of having the coronavirus. So far, 178 people in St. Louis have died of the infection.
Mayor Lyda Krewson reported in her livestreamed press conference Friday that 267 area coronavirus patients were in the hospital, with 76 of them in ICUs – that number, she said, was “actually the highest it’s been in the last three weeks.” Forty-seven people were on ventilators – also the highest number for the past few weeks. New admissions totaled 34, down from recent figures in the 40s and 50s; and 37 people had recovered enough to be released from the hospital.
Krewson noted that the length of time required to get COVID-19 test results seems to be dropping.
“Most of the tests are within a week of the when the test was taken,” she said, better than the 14 days or so some people had had to wait to get their results.
“One of the things that we know is that we still may be receiving additional test results from the state,” she acknowledged.
“Mid-stream, in the middle of a pandemic, through – not really the state’s fault – they decided to change technologies,” she said wryly. Naturally, there’s likely to be “some backlog and backup.”
The seven-day rolling average of new cases per day has been ticking up slightly but is still down compared with last month, when the state repeatedly broke its own records for single-day increases in cases.
On average, another 1,093 cases have been reported in the state every day over the past week, according to an Associated Press analysis of Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 tracking project.
MetroSTL.com staff contributed to this report.