The state has not met Gov. Mike Parson’s stated goal to double the number of COVID-19 tests completed daily because there are not enough people who are sick enough to be tested, the state health director said Wednesday.
Speaking during Gov. Mike Parson’s daily news briefing, Randall Williams said the state has the capacity to process 50,000 samples per week at 16 labs.
In the week since Parson said he wanted to double testing by this week and reach 10,000 tests a day soon after, the state has averaged about 1,300 tests per day.
To use that capacity, Williams said, the state will broaden its testing criteria to give health providers more ability to order tests for people with mild or no symptoms and to test first responders like police and emergency medical technicians.
When Parson said the state needed to ramp up testing, it had tested a higher percentage of residents than any of the surrounding states except Tennessee. As of Wednesday morning, the state was also lagging behind Illinois, Oklahoma and Arkansas for the share of residents tested.
Missouri has processed 59,766 tests through Wednesday afternoon, about 965 for every 100,000 people. Nationally, the testing rate is 1,361 tests per 100,000 people.
"The numbers you are mentioning are a great reflection we don't have as many sick people," Williams said. "We are now going to be looking at broader scopes of people other than people who just have coughs and fevers. And as we do that, and as we do more boxed-in, and what we call sentinel testing, we will increase our testing numbers."
The daily report of new coronavirus infections in Missouri saw an increase Wednesday for the first time since Saturday. But the data is also evidence of a continued slowing of new cases.
After three weeks of recording 1,000 new COVID-19 cases every four or five days, Missouri passed the threshold of 6,000 confirmed infections Wednesday, the sixth day since it recorded the 5,000th case.
Those numbers, however, do not show a rapid growth of cases in two central Missouri counties, Saline and Moniteau, centered around meat-packing plants.
The Saline County Health Department reported on Wednesday that its case count had grown to 106, while the state report showed 55.
The Moniteau County Health Department reported 59 total cases on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. Neither county has reported a death. The state report showed 32 cases in Moniteau County.
The cases from Saline and Moniteau counties are not reflected in the latest data from the state Department of Health and Senior Services, which reported 196 new COVID-19 infections, on Wednesday. There was just one new infection in Saline, the state reporting 55 cases, and seven in Moniteau, with the state reporting 32 cases.
Saline County’s infection rate is more than 450 cases per 100,000 population and Moniteau’s rate at 340 per 100,000. The infection rate in the third-worst hit area, the city of St. Louis, is 289 per 100,000.
Most of the new cases reported Wednesday are in the St. Louis metropolitan area. The state now has confirmed 6,137 infections through testing.
The state health department reported another 19 deaths Wednesday, bringing the state total to 208. Deaths have been reported in 30 counties, with new deaths in Lewis and Newton counties increasing the list where deaths have been reported.
The state is under a stay-at-home order until May 3.
During Parson’s briefing, Dr. Robin Trotman, an infectious disease specialist with CoxHealth in Springfield, said the state has successfully kept the spread of the disease under control with the local and state orders.
"I am so enthusiastic about how the public has understood the consequences of these shelter-at-home ordinances and restrictions across the community," Trotman said. "We have literally bent his curve. We have flattened this curve."
The state will focus its testing capability on new hotspots as they develop, Williams said.
"This recognizes the increased availability of tests and reflects our strategy of moving forward to box in new outbreaks as they arise and give Dr. Trotman and others a broader flexibility on who is being tested," Williams said.
Parson said new guidelines will be issued soon for businesses to maintain social distancing after the stay-at-home order is lifted, but he expects most to reopen.
"Almost every business in the state of Missouri will be able to open their doors," Parson said. "People will be able to go back to work. There will be some guidelines we have with that but the majority of them will be open."
The order covering Columbia and Boone County will end May 3, the same day the statewide order issued by Parson will expire. The case count in Boone has been growing by one or less per day for the past week.
The local health department recorded Boone County’s 90th case on Tuesday and no new cases on Wednesday. University of Missouri Hospital reported it had four inpatient cases and there is one at Boone Hospital Center. MU Hospital reported two inpatient cases under investigation.
The state health department count for Boone County was 97 on Wednesday. The state has slightly different rules for classifying who is a resident of Boone County while counting cases.
As of Tuesday, there was least one confirmed COVID-19 infection in 99 of the 117 local health department jurisdictions that report to the state.
The count in Greene County stood at 83, down one from Wednesday.
As of Wednesday afternoon , the U.S. had more than 846,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, up about 30,000 since Monday.
The contagion is blamed for 46,399 deaths in the United States.
Worldwide, the virus is known to have infected more than 2.6 million people and is blamed for more than 182,740 deaths.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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