O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) - The mostly rural Bootheel region of Missouri is seeing high numbers of confirmed cases of the coronavirus, but unlike many other hard-hit areas, the surge isn’t tied to any particular place or demographic.
Information from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services shows that several southeast Missouri counties have some of the state’s worst rates of confirmed cases per capita. Perry County’s rate of 3,055 cases per 100,000 residents is second only to McDonald County’s 4,545 cases per 100,000. McDonald County, in southwestern Missouri, saw a big outbreak this summer tied to meat plants.
Several other counties in southeast Missouri have high per capita rates of confirmed cases, including Pemiscot (2,962 cases per 100,000), New Madrid (2,926), Bollinger (2,572) and Dunklin (2,539).
Perry County Health Department Director Sylvia Forester said Tuesday that part of the reason for the high number of cases in her county has been aggressive testing from the outset of the pandemic. Still, there is concern about how the virus has moved through the rural county of 19,100 residents because the outbreak isn’t tied to nursing homes, meat plants or colleges - places that have driven outbreaks in many non-urban areas.
“We do have indicators of community spread,” Forester said.
Like most Missouri counties, Perry County has no mask mandate. Some large events have been called off this year to limit the virus’ spread, Forester said, but others have not, including a motorcycle rally last weekend in Perryville.
In Bollinger County, home to just 12,100 people, even health officials are puzzled by the number of cases that rose dramatically earlier this month before leveling off in recent days.
“We’ve been working on figuring that our ourselves because we have had a significant surge,” Bollinger County Health Department Administrator Juanita Welker said. All told, Bollinger County has reported 354 confirmed cases, and 32 probable cases.
Welker cited a few factors that may have driven the surge, including schools reopening with in-person classes in August and the fact that the county is home to several residential care facilities with illnesses.
“And the third thing we’re looking at is the Labor Day weekend,” Welker said. “More people got together than they normally do.”
Statewide, Missouri reported 57 new deaths Tuesday, by far the most reported in a single day. The previous high was 32 reported Aug. 29. Daily death reports can be misleading because they are based on data provided to the state from local agencies, and some agencies may report multiple days at one time. All told, the death toll in Missouri now stands at 1,864.
The state also added 1,059 confirmed cases, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 115,366.
Steadily rising hospitalizations, especially in rural areas, also are raising alarms. Statewide hospitalizations have topped 1,000 for seven of the past 10 reported days, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Until Aug. 25, Missouri had never reported more than 1,000 hospitalized patients. The statewide increase comes despite the fact that hospitalizations in the St. Louis area have declined slightly since Sept. 1.
“Not only are the numbers rising, but the numbers are rising in places that don’t have as robust a resource built into their communities,” Missouri Hospital Association spokesman Dave Dillon told the newspaper.
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