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Missouri virus hospitalizations rising as data problem fixed

JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — A data-entry problem that skewed hospitalization numbers in Missouri for more than a week was fixed on Monday, and the new data showed that hospitalizations were still increasing.

Last week, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ coronavirus dashboard had a message that said the number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 had been underreported since Oct. 17 because of “challenges entering data” to the portal used by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for collecting daily hospitalizations around the country.

The dashboard posted a message Monday saying the problem had been resolved.

State health officials reported 171,022 newly confirmed cases Monday, an increase of 1,527 from Sunday. Between Oct. 17-23, the state had 11,095 new cases, an average of 1,585 a day, according to state data. Missouri has recorded 2,810 deaths since the pandemic began, five more than on Sunday. There can be a 72-hour delay in reporting hospitalization data, because that is how long hospitals have to submit it.

As of Sunday night, the city of St. Louis had tallied 8,182 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 129 probable cases. The number of deaths held steady at 211.

Hospitalizations in the state have increased steadily since September and hit record highs several times this month. The peak was Oct. 14, when 1,465 hospitalizations were reported, which was nearly four times the 375 patients who were hospitalized on July 7.

It remained unclear Monday how many other states had been affected by the HHS portal issue, because some states do not use the federal agency’s data collection.

An HHS spokeswoman did not respond to a question about other states but said the issues in Missouri had been caused by a need to incorporate additional data elements on the state’s dashboard. The statement said that there were no missing data on the HHS systems and that the two agencies had worked together to fix any discrepancies.

Also Monday, President Donald Trump’s administration announced that it was sending 1.8 million rapid coronavirus tests to Missouri.

The tests can identify COVID-19 in as little as 15 minutes, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. About 1 million of the tests have been shipped as of Monday, according to the agency, though there’s no current timetable for when the rest will be mailed.

The administration of Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, told the agency that it planned to use about 60% of the tests on K-12 school testing. Another 30% will go to colleges and universities, and 10% will be saved for other uses.

Meanwhile, in the face of increasing COVID-19 deaths at Missouri’s seven state-operated veterans homes, the Missouri Veterans Commission said it would ask for an additional $16.4 million as it struggles to operate amid declining revenues.

As of Monday, 73 people at the homes had died from COVID-19 and the commission was facing the potential loss of $13 million in federal aid at the end of the year. Revenue has dropped because no new patients are being admitted to homes that have positive COVID-19 cases, meaning only 872 of the 1,238 beds available are being used.

“We do have concerns about cash flow,” the commission’s fiscal administrator, Terressa Sherlock, told commissioners.

Parson ordered an independent review of the homes after more than 40 residents died in a short time in October. The review has not concluded.

Parson has refused to issue a statewide mask mandate. He is turning to social media influencers in an effort to remind Missouri residents to practice safety precautions such as social distancing, wearing masks and hand washing. The state is asking some to participate in program that would promote the protocols on residents Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Those who agree to participate will not be paid, said Maggie Kost, a spokeswoman for the Department of Economic Development.

TikTok star Nickolas Ray, a Missouri native with 1.7 million followers, and Jenna Fischer, an actress from Missouri with 3.1 million Instagram followers, have been asked to participate. Other possibilities include former St. Louis Cardinals star Ozzie Smith and Kansas City Royals Manager Mike Matheny, Kost said.

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