ST. LOUIS (AP/KMOV.com) -- Missouri has once again broken its own record for COVID-19 hospitalizations and seven-day positivity rate, putting its status at an alarming rate nationwide. 

According to the state's coronavirus dashboard, the number of patients hospitalized across the state for the virus reached 1,443 Thursday, the highest ever. This is the third day in a row the state breaks its own record and reports more than 1,400 hospitalizations. 

Hospitalizations have risen dramatically since the state loosened restrictions in mid-June. On June 16, 626 people were hospitalized, and that number dropped to 375 on July 7. It has nearly quadrupled since then.

The state has had more than 1,000 hospitalizations every day in October so far, compared to only two days in August. The average daily hospitalizations for October sits at 1,289 whereas it was 911 in August. 

The state’s seven-day positivity rate was 17.9% Thursday. The national seven-day positivity rate was at 5.1%, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The World Health Organization has set 5% as the benchmark.

Also according to the state's dashboard, Missouri ranks number four in the country for the highest number of reported deaths in the last seven days. The state ranks number eight nationwide for the number of reported new cases. 

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams said the surge isn’t just happening in Missouri. Several other Midwestern states are seeing rising numbers of cases and hospitalizations — evidence of the need for people to continue to take the risk of the virus seriously, he said.

“Originally the hope was that as summer came it would burn itself out, or that these respiratory viruses tend to have kind of a rise and decrease, that that’s not been our reality internationally or nationally with COVID,” Williams said.

Four regions — Kansas City and northwestern, central and northeastern Missouri — reached record hospitalization levels. Two others — southwestern and southeastern Missouri — fell just short of records set over the past week. Only the St. Louis region, which was by far the hardest-hit area of the state early in the pandemic — was well below record numbers. St. Louis and St. Louis County both have implemented far stricter guidelines on face coverings and social distancing than those required statewide by Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who himself is a survivor of the virus.

Dr. Marc Larsen, who oversees the COVID-19 response at Kansas City-based St. Luke’s Health System, said the system’s rural hospitals are seeing surges just as bad as the hospital on the Plaza in Kansas City.

“Early on in this pandemic it was felt that this was a big city problem, and now this is stretching out into the rural communities where I think there has not been as much emphasis on masking and distancing, because it hasn’t affected them to that point,” Larsen said.

Parson has often encouraged Missourians to wear masks, practice social distancing and practice hand hygiene, but he has adamantly opposed any mandates.

Adding to the problem is the fact that many COVID-19 patients end up with far longer hospital stays than other patients. Larsen said patients requiring admission to the intensive care unit typically stay 15 days — three times longer than the average for non-coronavirus patients. About one-third of COVID-19 patients at St. Luke’s end up in the ICU.

Williams said that with the onset of the flu season, it’s especially imperative that people take precautions to help keep hospitals from becoming overburdened. He encouraged Missourians to get flu shots.

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