More than 1,000 people in Missouri have died from COVID-19, according to data analyzed by St. Louis Public Radio. The state reached that grim milestone earlier this week, three months after the first person in the state died from the disease.
“Any number is significant, but it’s a sign we’re truly in a pandemic situation with 1,000 deaths,” said Dr. Bill Powderly, infectious disease chief at Washington University and director of the school’s Institute for Public Health. He said the country is still in the “first wave” of the virus.
“We’re still in the phase where it could rapidly flare up again if we don’t remain vigilant,” he said.
African Americans have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. Black people make up nearly 12% of Missouri's population, but represent more than one-third of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.
The St. Louis region has borne the brunt of the deaths, with more than 70% of the state's deaths from COVID-19, according to data collected by the New York Times and analyzed by St. Louis Public Radio.
But as new cases and hospital admissions have declined in the St. Louis region, outbreaks have started to flare up in rural parts of the state. Those increases are reflected in the highest single-day count of new cases since the pandemic began. On June 25, the state saw 598 new cases of COVID-19.
Many of those new cases occurred in meatpacking plants in the southwest part of the state, officials from the Department of Health and Senior Services said.
The state relaxed social distancing guidelines in mid-May and St. Louis and St. Louis County soon followed suit. Dr. Sharon Frey, an infectious disease specialist at St. Louis University, is worried that because businesses are open, people think the virus is in the rearview mirror.
“This game is just starting,” Frey said. “It’s far from won, and coronavirus is going to be around for a very long time.”
It’s likely the state will see another 1,000 deaths before the pandemic is over, she said.
The fall could bring another huge wave of COVID-19 deaths if the coronavirus behaves similarly to the flu virus, which is more serious in colder weather when people crowd together inside, she said.
Instead of one nationwide wave, Frey said she expects to see outbreaks occur in different parts of the country at different times. Those localized outbreaks are already happening in southern states such as Texas and Arizona, which have seen cases and hospitalizations skyrocket in the past weeks.
The swell of cases in the South and Southwest should serve as a reminder that the virus is still deadly, Powderly said.
“We can see as if rolls across the country, into parts of the country that haven’t seen it to the same extent, that it’s still a very, very lethal and challenging virus to deal with,” he said.
Powderly said he hopes it doesn’t take more deaths to get people to take protective measures seriously.
“In places that have had to deal with it, people realize how serious it is,” he said. “People think it’s a mild infection they don’t have to worry about.”
Daily updating coronavirus stats:
Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge
Our priority is you. Support coverage that’s reliable, trustworthy and more essential than ever. Donate today.
Send questions and comments about this story to email@example.com