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Missouri officials say hospital capacity OK but staffing raises worries


Missouri officials said the state's hospitals are not stretched too thin as COVID-19 cases surge but they are continuing to watch the situation closely.

"The state has plenty of hospital beds, but the situation that can become an issue and what we're watching closely is hospital staffing," Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday during his COVID-19 briefing from the state Capitol.

Missouri is seeing increases in new COVID-19 cases, reporting more than 3,500 new cases Thursday along with a record number of hospitalizations for coronavirus.

Watch a replay of the briefing in the player below.

The state's online COVID-19 dashboard says the state has 46% of its hospital beds and 31% of its intensive care beds available. Those numbers are 47% and 37% in the central region, respectively.

Parson, who has been criticized for a perceived lack of action against the virus, said his office takes the pandemic seriously and encouraged Missourians to wear masks.

"We are very thankful that the majority of Missourians with the virus make a full recovery, but there are still many Missourians who are hospitalized, on ventilators, or passed away," Parson said. "We do not take this lightly, and our prayers are with these Missourians and their families."

Parson said coronavirus fatigue has set in for many people but that Missourians must stay on guard, particularly with cold weather approaching.

Dr. Randall Williams, head of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said Missouri is on the uphill part of the COVID-19 curve. Hospitalizations remain high but stable, he said.

“But we watch it like a hawk because, again, we are well aware that it has increased,” Williams said.

Williams said in response to a reporter's question that state officials are trying to address issues rural hospitals have raised about their inability to treat some COVID-19 patients. Williams said the state is working on ways to get more expertise from large, urban hospitals to those rural facilities so that COVID-19 patients don't require transfer to larger hospitals.

Missouri's rate of positive COVID-19 tests continues to increase, Williams said. The data indicates that coronavirus is spreading through communities and health leaders believe people are contracting the virus from others they know.

Williams cautioned Missourians to be careful about where they go and who they are in contact with.

"Our goal remains the same -- we do not want one person in Missouri to get COVID-19," Williams said.

Williams said a COVID-19 vaccine is closer to a reality and that Pfizer, which is using Missouri facilities in its vaccine program, plans to apply for an emergency use authorization for its vaccine soon.

The state is also examining the disruptions to learning caused by schools having to go to online-only education because of the number of staff members in quarantine from COVID-19 exposure. Several Mid-Missouri schools have had to switch to online classes.

Democratic Rep. Kip Kendrick said he thinks local leaders should not be in charge of determining when and how schools switch to in-person learning.

"They have punted these decisions back to the local communities and then they want to come in and tell these local school board officials they are doing it wrong," he said.

However republican Rep. Chuck Basye said Gov. Parson is doing a remarkable job handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The governor made it clear he thinks each district should handle it on the local level and I agree with that," he said.

Williams said data shows that the virus is not as prevalent in children and that state officials will be talking with the CDC about guidelines for quarantines and schools.

State lawmakers also converged on the Capitol on Thursday for the start of a special session. Parson has asked lawmakers to authorize about $1.2 billion in spending from federal CARES Act stimulus.

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus

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Matthew Sanders

Matthew Sanders is the digital content director at ABC 17 News.


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