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Missouri COVID cases, hospitalizations rise as officials warn of infections in children

Missouri’s average of daily COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have reached levels not seen since January, with health officials warning that more younger children are contracting COVID as the Delta variant continues to burn through the state.

On Thursday, the state Department of Health and Senior Services reported 3,946 additional COVID-19 cases, bringing the seven-day-average to more than 3,000 for the first time since Jan. 16. 

That’s up 26 percent over the last week and 224 percent since July 4. 

Those figures come just a day after the state reported its highest single-day total of cases and hospitalizations since January, with 4,438 new cases and 2,083 inpatients. 

Madison County in southeastern Missouri, with a population of roughly 12,000 people, reported that it had 40 cases so far this month compared with 55 in all of July.

Meanwhile, Springfield-Greene County Health Director Katie Towns said Wednesday that the county had seen 27 COVID-19 deaths in the past week alone. In the past month, there have been 58 COVD-19 deaths in the county, the most since January. 

In addition, the county reported 506 COVID cases in July of children younger than 11. The previous peak was 255 in December. 

Currently, Pfizer’s vaccine is authorized only for people 12 and older. 

“All of us that are eligible can protect our children by getting vaccinated,” Towns said. “Our recommendation along with the healthcare community is that everyone who can get vaccinated to do so as soon as possible, especially those 12 and older who are about to head back to class.”

A similar warning was issued in St. Louis.

Spring Schmidt, deputy director of the St. Louis County health department, said Wednesday that people under age 19 made up about a fifth of current total cases in county hospitals.

“It is true that they do not often experience as many of the severe negative outcomes, such as hospitalization or mortality,” Schmidt said. “However, that does not mean that we do not currently have children who are experiencing those outcomes.”

A day before, Clay Dunagan, BJC HealthCare’s chief clinical officer, said 10 children 11 years old and under and another 10 children 12 years old and over were hospitalized across the four health care systems that make up the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

That’s up from 13 from a week before.

Of those, seven children are in intensive care units “fighting for their lives,” he said.

The surge in cases and hospitalizations is playing out local officials face increasing political and legal resistance to mask mandates. 

While communities across the state debate mask requirements, Attorney General Eric Schmitt has vowed to sue to block them. 

Schmitt, who is running for the GOP Senate nomination, won a temporary restraining order blocking a mask mandate in St. Louis County — though the ruling came after the county council voted to rescind an order. 

He’s also filed suit to block a similar order in Kansas City. 

Robert Knodell, the state’s acting health director, tweeted this week that “the virus itself is our enemy.”

“We should fight it with all our might,” he said. “If folks would spend more time fighting the virus than fighting one another, the situation would be much better.”

In an interview earlier this week with KAIT-TV, which serves southeastern Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson said that the COVID situation in Missouri was improving. 

“Things are getting a little better in the state,” he said. “We still have a big challenge on there but we are starting to see things in southwest Missouri level off, which is a good sign.”

He acknowledged, however, that challenges remain. 

“And we know there are a lot of people out there who are not vaccinated,” Parson said. “We’ve got to keep working on that every day, trying to make sure we get as many people as are willing to take the vaccine and want to take the vaccine, that we get that to them.”

This article by Jason Hancock, with contributions from Rudi Keller and Tessa Weinberg, is published by permission of The Missouri Independent

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