by Rudi Keller, Missouri Independent
Amid signs that COVID-19 is loosening its grip on Missouri, the state Senate this week will hold hearings on coronavirus liability protections while the state House is home as leaders attempt to control a Capitol Building outbreak.
The Department of Health and Senior Services on Tuesday reported 1,357 new COVID-19 infections and it marked the third consecutive day of reporting fewer than 1,500 cases since the first week of October. And the 7-day positive rate on tests, 12.7 percent, is down 4.7 percentage points over the past week.
Republican leadership in the House didn’t detail how many lawmakers are sick or in quarantine from exposure when they canceled this week’s session. There were 11 members absent last week during a roll call vote that defeated a proposed rule change to require masks in the House chamber.
The leadership has not stated whether regular sessions will resume next week.
On the Senate side of the building, the Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee will hold hearings Tuesday on two bills shielding employers and business owners from lawsuits alleging they allowed exposure to COVID-19. That will be followed Wednesday with hearings in the Senate Health and Pensions Committee on bills limiting the scope and duration of local health orders.
One bill, sponsored by Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, scheduled for a hearing Wednesday would exempt religious worship services from health restrictions and barring lawsuits from people who contract COVID-19 during services.
Senate hearings will have audio streaming but no online video.
The indicators that the pandemic is easing in Missouri as it rages elsewhere have been visible in several indicators in recent weeks. The lower daily counts are driving down the 7-day average of reported cases, which fell below 2,000 per day for the first time since late October.
There are also fewer local health jurisdictions reporting new cases. Of 117 local jurisdictions listed on state reports, there were new cases in 89 on Tuesday, the second day with new cases in fewer than 100 health departments since early October.
Missouri’s rate of new cases has been below the national average for eight consecutive weeks. The result is that the overall per capita infection rate in the state, which rose above the national average on Oct. 10, fell below the national average on Saturday.
As of Monday, Missouri had an overall infection rate of 7,150 cases per 100,000 residents. The national infection rate was 7,244 per 100,000 people.
The vaccines being administered are already having a positive effect for the health care workers who were first in line, Springfield’s CoxHealth CEO Steve Edwards wrote in a Monday tweet.
He reported that 6,658 of the company’s 12,500 health care workers had received a first dose and those employees would start receiving their booster shots on Tuesday.
“Total daily employee infections are already down 50%!” Cox wrote.
According to data from the CDC, Missouri has administered about one-third of the 528,000 doses received so far, with about 153,000 people receiving a first dose.
Hospitalizations, which health experts consider a lagging indicator, are also showing some improvement. The total number of inpatients stood at 2,392 on Saturday, the first time the tally has been below 2,400 since Nov. 10.
Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.