The spread of COVID-19 in Missouri has been slower than in the nation as a whole for more than 11 weeks, and this month so far the increase in cases has been half the national average.
The number of new cases reported by the Department of Health and Senior Services has exceeded 1,000 on only five of the 15 days this month. There were only four days from Sept. 1 to Jan. 31 where there were fewer than 1,000 new cases reported.
On Monday, the department reported 421 new infections, the lowest number since July 12. The seven-day average of reported cases, at 714 per day, is also the lowest since mid-July.
The highest single daily tally of reported cases was 6,346 on Nov. 14 and the highest seven-day average was 4,723 per day on Nov. 20.
As a result, total hospitalizations are declining; there are six small counties where there hasn’t been a new case recorded for a week or more; and 16 counties, all with populations below 11,000, that have had fewer than 10 new cases this month.
Tracking deaths is more difficult because the department issues weekly updates after checking old death certificates. Last week, for example, the department found 287 deaths, including several from early in 2020, that had not bee previously classified as COVID-19 deaths.
Missouri has confirmed 471,662 total coronavirus infections using the most precise testing and 7,455 deaths. Of that number, 78,671 have been reported since Dec. 31, which gives the state the ninth lowest per capita infection rate in that period.
In some locations, the lower numbers are leading health officials to further relax restrictions on business operations. The Columbia-Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department, for example, last week announced that bars in the city could serve until midnight.
The previous cut-off time was 10:30 p.m.
“We are making this change to allow our local establishments to serve their customers for a slightly longer period of time while still requiring masks and social distancing,” Director Stephanie Browning said.
Boone County averaged 89 cases per day in January, 48 per day in the first week of February and only 25 cases per day last week.
Other indicators that spread is slowing is apparent on campuses of the University of Missouri. Prior to Friday, the Columbia campus had reported only two days since classes began in August without a new student case. There were no new cases Friday, Saturday or Sunday among students and only nine active infections out of 3,107 total.
There were also nine active cases among faculty and staff.
At the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, as of Saturday there were no active cases of COVID-19 among students or employees for the first time since the fall semester began.
“This is great news, but we cannot let down our guard,” Dr. Dennis Goodman, Missouri S&T’s chief medical officer.
The campus will continue to require facial coverings in classrooms and common areas around campus, maintaining social distancing and limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer.
The state’s vaccine rollout, which at one time was the slowest in the nation, has accelerated. As of Monday morning, the Centers for Disease Control dashboard shows that about 10 percent of the state’s population has received at least one shot. There are five states, including Kansas and Tennessee on the state’s borders, that have given fewer first shots per capita.
The state had four mass vaccination sites for first shots and four sites for booster shots scheduled this week, most for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but they were canceled Monday afternoon because of snow and intense cold.
As of Friday, there were about 1,400 people hospitalized in Missouri with COVD-19, the lowest number since the second week of October. That is less than half the peak of 2,862 inpatients, recorded Dec. 22.