Boone County reported its worst day of new COVID-19 cases Thursday as the growing case count statewide saw the Missouri Hospital Association reverse a decision to discontinue its daily report of hospitalizations.
The county recorded 39 new cases, 14 more than the previous high on Tuesday and enough to make sure that the daily average of new cases this week is the highest since the pandemic began.
Late Thursday, the Columbia-Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services issued a notice warning patrons of Room 38, a bar and restaurant at 38 N. Eighth Street, that they may have been exposed to the coronavirus, "as they may have been in close contact with someone who was infectious at that time."
Anyone who was in the establishment from June 22 to June 25 is asked to monitor themselves for symptoms including fever, cough, shortness of breath or new loss of taste or smell, among others.
There have been 87 new cases of COVID-19 in Boone County since Saturday, which has sent the number of active cases to a new high at 137, with almost 300 people in quarantine due to potential exposure.
Statewide, there were 356 new cases Thursday, the eighth consecutive day with more than 300 new cases. There was at least one new case in 61 local health jurisdictions out of 117 statewide.
In central Missouri, there were five new cases in Callaway County reported by the state on Thursday, with three more in Cole County, two in Cooper County and one in Audrain County.
The hospital association reports the number of COVD-19 inpatients with a 72-hour delay. On June 19, the last day reported on the suspended reports, there were 595 people hospitalized throughout the state. On Monday, the date reflected on the report issued Thursday, there were 716 COVID-19 inpatients.
"With the recent spike in cases, and our identification of a trend in a significant asymptomatic and young population among those testing positive, we determined that hospitals and other stakeholders may need a more timely view of the statewide resource," Jackie Gatz, association vice president, wrote in an email.
There are currently hotspots of increased use but the state is not near its capacity, Gatz wrote. The association’s report showed that more than 40 percent of the state’s hospital beds are available, as are 40 percent of the state’s ICU beds.
"Nonetheless, the trend lines are moving in the wrong direction," Gatz wrote.
The rapidly increasing case counts are pushing some locations around the state to mandate masks in public. The Columbia City Council on Monday night will vote on an ordinance requiring people 10 years old and older to wear masks in most situations.
Missouri’s two largest metropolitan areas are now requiring face coverings in response to the surge in confirmed coronavirus cases, but many other places across the state are leaving it up to individuals to decide.
Kansas City and Jackson County began requiring face coverings for residents in public earlier this week, and St. Louis city and county leaders on Wednesday announced similar measures.
The state’s third largest city, Springfield, is encouraging, but not requiring masks.
"I wear a mask to protect you" Springfield Mayor Ken McClure said Thursday at a news conference. "You wear a mask to protect me."
Missouri is among several states seeing big increases in confirmed cases of virus that causes COVID-19 since the economy reopened. Since June 16 the state has had no rules on social distancing, though Republican Gov. Mike Parson has repeatedly urged caution and stressed personal responsibility.
Adding to the concern is the upcoming Fourth of July holiday, when many people are expected to gather at parties, festivals and fireworks displays.
State health department Director Randall Williams on Thursday told people to continue using hand sanitizer, social distancing and wearing masks if necessary.
"We want everyone to enjoy the holiday," Parson said. "But we cannot let our guard down."
The state health department has reported more than 3,250 newly confirmed cases in the past eight days. The state has seen 22,283 confirmed cases, including 1,022 deaths, since the pandemic began. Hospitalizations also are rising.
Despite rising cases, Parson said he is looking at other data as well.
Both he and Williams said the state is improving in many of those areas. They cited an overall drop in hospitalizations and a decrease in the rate of the virus' spread between people since the virus peaked as encouraging signs.
"Looking at the data as a whole, Missouri is still in a good place," Parson said. "We are comfortable where we are at, and we continue to move forward with our recovery efforts."
In many cities and counties, leaders are standing firm against any mask mandate.
"When it comes to masks, I have faith that the citizens of St. Charles County will do the right thing without government coercion," St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann, a Republican, said in a statement. "I will continue to do everything I can to remind our citizens that, along with the freedom to decide, they have a responsibility to protect the health of others by wearing a mask."
St. Charles County, near St. Louis, is Missouri’s third-largest county with 402,000 residents. Leaders of another St. Louis-area county, Franklin, also are not requiring face coverings for its 104,000 residents.
Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker, a Republican, said the commission "will continue to support the choice of the individual to keep themselves and others as safe as possible with their lifestyle choices."