O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) - Missouri’s health department on Thursday reported 67 new deaths from the coronavirus, adding to the total that has risen sharply since the start of the month.
Only 10 other states have reported more deaths than Missouri over the past seven days, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Service’s daily tracking dashboard. Since Dec. 1, the state has cited 195 new deaths among the 290,000 Americans killed by the virus since its onset.
Among the recent deaths was a young woman in her upper teens from Taney County. Hers was among eight new deaths announced by the southwestern Missouri county. Nearby Greene County has reported more than 50 deaths this month.
Missouri, like most of the nation, is seeing a big surge in confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The state has now recorded 4,450 deaths among 334,704 confirmed cases. The number of cases rose by 3,858 on Thursday.
Hospitals remain dangerously close to full. Inpatient bed capacity is down to 22% statewide and intensive care unit bed space is in even worse shape - 18% statewide. In northeast Missouri, just 3% of ICU beds are available, 6% are available in the southwestern part of the state and 9% in northwest Missouri, according to health department data.
KCUR reported that state data on hospitalizations - often cited by Gov. Mike Parson and other leaders as evidence that hospitals were not at risk - was unreliable into the fall, in part because many hospitals failed to follow reporting guidelines. An analysis by KCUR found that the data remained uncorrected even as hospital leaders warned that the information was misleading and facilities were becoming critically full.
Health department spokeswoman Lisa Cox said data collection “has been a nationwide challenge” but the state has always sought to report data as accurately as possible. She said the state last month added an “inpatient-only” metric for beds to provide better context.
Meanwhile, health care systems are preparing to receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, perhaps as early as next week. In St. Louis, BJC HealthCare Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Clay Dunagan said the first batch of nearly 10,000 vaccines are expected to be the one developed by Pfizer Inc.
Dunagan said the vaccines will be administered first to frontline health care workers and scientists who work with infectious materials. BJC plans to do about 1,000 vaccinations per day once they get the go-ahead. Older workers will go first, Dunagan said.
A federal government advisory panel convened Thursday to decide whether to endorse mass use of Pfizer’s vaccine. The meeting of outside advisers to the Food and Drug Administration represented the next-to-last hurdle. Depending on how fast the FDA signs off on the panel’s recommendation, shots could begin within days.
Experts caution that it will still be months before vaccines are available for everyone who wants one. Missouri’s health director, Dr. Randall Williams, said last week that he expects vaccines to be readily available to the public by July or August.
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