CoronavirusNewsThe SouthSider

Missouri’s COVID death rate among nation’s worst

The summer surge of COVID-19 is causing a spike in deaths in Missouri, including 124 reported Tuesday.

The state health department said 86 of those deaths were discovered in the department’s weekly examination of death certificates from across the state. One of those deaths was in June, 52 in July and 33 earlier this month.

But 38 of the deaths were new, an unusually high one-day total. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Tuesday, Missouri ranked fourth in per capita deaths over seven days, and that doesn’t include the 124 newly reported deaths.

CDC information shows Louisiana has the worst seven-day COVID-19 death rate with six deaths per 100,000 residents, followed by Arkansas (5.5 deaths per capita); Nevada (4.3 deaths per capita); and Missouri (3.3 deaths per capita).

The delta variant began ravaging Missouri in June, causing a big rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Experts lay much of the blame on Missouri’s low vaccination rate. The CDC says 50.2% of Missourians have initiated vaccination, compared to 59.8% of all Americans.

“The thing that’s happening with delta is that it’s so much more transmissible that the rates in some regions have passed where they were in the winter,” said Dr. Clay Dunagan of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. “So the total number of deaths may well equal or exceed what they’ve seen before.

“But I also think that we have done a fairly good job of vaccinating the highest risk individuals and our mortality rates may not get quite as high as they were before. We can only hope that will be the case,” Dunagan said during a briefing livestreamed on Facebook.

The state health department dashboard showed 1,501 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the pandemic total to 604,336. Missouri has reported 10,152 deaths.

Hospitalizations continue to rise and remain at their highest level since the winter with 2,380 people hospitalized statewide, including 660 in intensive care units and 382 on ventilators.

Dunagan said there are some signs that the number of new cases in the St. Louis area is flattening, “but we really need to redouble our efforts to make sure that happens.”

A St. Louis County judge extended on Tuesday an order by two days that temporarily blocks enforcement of a mask mandate in St. Louis County. Judge Ellen Ribaudo urged attorneys for the state and the county to work together “to try to protect our citizens from such a deadly disease.”

On July 26, Page and the county’s acting health director issued the mandate requiring masks in indoor public places and on public transportation for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals age 5 and older. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican, sued St. Louis County the same day.

Concerns about the spread of the virus have prompted the cancellation of Ozarks Pridefest for the second straight year. Organizers announced the decision Monday, citing the “overwhelming number of hospitalizations caused by COVID-19.”

Towns and school districts continue to debate the merits of a mask mandate. In the Kansas City area, the Independence City Council voted down a mandate, but the school board for the Park Hill district voted Monday to require a mask for students and staff when schools open for the fall next week.

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