Hospitalization data flawed in Missouri, perhaps elsewhere

O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — With the number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization rising at alarming levels, Missouri and perhaps a handful of other states are unable to post accurate data on COVID-19 dashboards because of a flaw in the federal reporting system.

Since Tuesday, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Service’s coronavirus dashboard has posted a message that the total number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 has been underreported since Oct. 17. The note blamed “challenges entering data” to the portal used by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for collecting daily hospitalizations around the country.

It wasn’t immediately clear on Friday how many states are impacted since some states rely on their own hospitalization counts, not HHS data collection. HHS did not immediately respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.

But The COVID Tracking Project said in a blog post that it has “identified five other states with anomalies in their hospitalization figures” that could be tied to the HHS reporting problem.

The project noted that the number of reported intensive care unit patients in Kansas had decreased from 80 to one without explanation. It said Wisconsin’s hospitalization figures stayed unexpectedly flat while other indicators worsened. And it said Georgia, Alabama, and Florida reported only partial updates to hospitalization data.

Kansas Department of Health and Environment spokeswoman Kristi Zears confirmed that the “ICU admission data displayed on our website is not current. We did post a notice on our dashboard today to convey that as well. We anticipate the issue will be resolved for our Monday update.”

A spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said the state’s reporting was accurate, with the number of hospitalizations holding steady for one day, Wednesday, before rising again on Thursday. A Georgia Department of Public Health spokeswoman said the department was unaware of any problems with its data. Health department representatives in the other states mentioned in the blog didn’t immediately respond to Associated Press requests for comment.

In Missouri, the loss of accurate hospitalization data comes as confirmed cases continue to rise. On Friday, Missouri reported 1,811 new cases of COVID-19, and 31 additional deaths. Since the onset of the pandemic, Missouri has cited 164,534 confirmed cases and 2,688 deaths.

Missouri also has seen a steady rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations since September. The state reached record levels of hospitalizations several times earlier this month, with every region except St. Louis seeing record or near-record spikes. Since July 7, when 375 people were hospitalized statewide, that number has nearly quadrupled to a peak of 1,465 hospitalizations on Oct. 14.

The problem is especially worrisome in rural areas, where some hospitals are nearing capacity. Others are using makeshift buildings or previously vacant hospital wings to serve overflow patients. Some are simply redirecting people to larger hospitals.

State health department spokeswoman Lisa Cox said the federal hospital reporting system, known as TeleTracking, went down. “As a result they experienced underreporting – so hospitalization numbers were lower than they should’ve

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3 members of same Missouri family die of coronavirus, 5 more sickened

Less than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, Covid-19 has already taken an enormous toll on one St. Louis woman’s family, leaving her mother and two relatives dead, while also sickening her and four other family members.

“The biggest thing I would tell people that’s short and sweet is that this thing is real, and to please protect yourself in every way that you possibly can,” Erin Griffin told NBC News.

Griffin, 40, who lives in the St. Louis suburb of Florissant, Missouri, said that Covid first struck her 72-year-old great uncle, Cornelius Brooks, who died in April from the virus while in a nursing home.

A month later her mother Venita Griffin, 67, and great uncle Kenneth Dortch, 74, also died from Covid-19.

“My biggest fear in my entire life was losing my mother,” Griffin told NBC affiliate KSDK.

Venita Griffin, center, with her daughters Lawanda, left, and Erin. (Courtesy Erin Griffin)
Venita Griffin, center, with her daughters Lawanda, left, and Erin. (Courtesy Erin Griffin)

Griffin said she was diagnosed with an “upper respiratory” infection earlier this year, which resurged “at the same time when everybody came down with the really bad symptoms,” and suspects she contracted coronavirus while acting as caretaker for her family members.

Her sister, Lawanda Griffin, also contracted the virus and spent a month in a coma with Covid-19.

“My sister actually was in a coma at the time my mother passed, so she had to wake up to the news of my mother’s passing,” Griffin said.

Griffin’s 14-year-old son, 82-year-old grandmother and partner also contracted coronavirus and have since recovered.

Griffin explained Tuesday that her sister’s coma paralleled another family catastrophe.

In 2017, Lawanda Griffin became guardian to her granddaughter Deniya after the young girl was critically injured during a triple murder in which her parents were killed, as KSDK reported at the time.

“[Deniya] was in the hospital at the time we had the funeral for her mother and father, so she didn’t get the closure that she needed at seven years old,” Griffin explained.

Erin Griffin, right, with her sister Lawanda. (Courtesy Erin Griffin)
Erin Griffin, right, with her sister Lawanda. (Courtesy Erin Griffin)

As coronavirus resurges across the country, Griffin hopes that her family’s difficulties will convince more Americans will take it seriously: “This thing is real, and love your family, and don’t take your life for granted,” she said.

According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, there have been over 158,000 Covid-19 cases to date in the state and 2,590 deaths.

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Long lines as Missouri medical marijuana dispensaries open

ST. LOUIS — Missouri’s first licensed marijuana dispensaries opened this weekend in the St. Louis area with long lines.

The two dispensaries run by N’Bliss opened Saturday in Ellisville and Manchester. Another dispensary is expected to open Monday in the Kansas City area nearly two years after Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment to allow the sale of medical marijuana.

To buy the drug, people need approval from a doctor and a state medical marijuana card. Prices are expected to be high initially because the supply is limited in the state at this stage. N’Bliss was charging $125 for an eighth of an ounce of marijuana when it opened Saturday.

Kim Haller said she stood in line Saturday because she has long been frustrated with the high cost of medications and injections she uses to treat her multiple sclerosis. Recently, Haller said she had been buying marijuana from a licensed caregiver.

“It helps with my spasticity, which means my muscles don’t move like I like them to, and sleep,” Haller, 54, of St. Peters, said of the marijuana treatment.

In the Kansas City area, Brenda Dougherty said she hopes to be one of Fresh Green’s first customers when it opens this week in Lee’s Summit. The 57-year-old from Warrensburg said she believes marijuana will help relieve her chronic pain condition.

“I don’t want to take any more pills,” she said. “I know this will help. To be quite honest, I have tried it and, yes, it does help.”

The Missouri Department of Health and Human Services expects most of the state’s 192 approved dispensaries to be open by the end of the year.

“Missouri patients have always been our North Star as we work to implement the state’s medical marijuana program,” Dr. Randall Williams, department director, said in a news release. “We greatly appreciate how hard everyone has worked so that patients can begin accessing a safe and well-regulated program.”

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