The Franklin County Health Department has stopped reporting COVID-19 data, according to the county’s emergency management director, Abe Cook.
That means there will no longer be weekly updates on how many deaths or hospitalizations occur in Franklin County due to the virus. Additionally, the positivity rate — the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive — in both the county and state will go unreported.
While the county won’t be reporting this data, the state will report some county-level data, but it will be limited. On a weekly basis, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services will report whether the COVID-19 caseload in the county is “low,” “medium” or “high,” and it will report the number of cases over a seven-day period, as well the number of cases per 100,000 residents. That data will be updated every Friday morning and will include data from the previous Thursday to the previous Wednesday.
No one will regularly publicly report how many people die of COVID-19 in Franklin County specifically. The only data on deaths will be statewide. There also will be no county-wide data on hospitalizations, only statewide.
Additionally, vaccination data will now come from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instead of the state.
The change follows a recent shift in policy from the governor’s office. Gov. Mike Parson announced in late March that the state would be shifting the response to COVID-19 from that of a pandemic to that of an endemic calling it an “End to the COVID-19 Crisis in Missouri.” He cited low case numbers and the fact that many believe COVID-19 will never truly go away as motivation for the shift.
Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker, who serves as the public information officer for matters related to COVID-19, said Friday the county is following the state’s lead and there is no “real need” to track COVID-19 differently than any other communicable disease. He added the plan could change if there is another COVID-19 surge.
“Like anything, if there’s an outbreak of any kind of communicable disease, we’ll start monitoring that and reporting accordingly,” he said.
Information on COVID-19 cases and deaths will now be treated by the county like other diseases, Brinker said.
“Just like anything, if influenza is caused, we track that too,” he said. “Those records are always available. There’s ‘cause of death’ throughout the county (health department) records.”
COVID-19 information is included in monthly health reports, and people can find it on the state health department dashboards, Brinker said.
“When media folk or someone else inquires, we’ll provide that,” he said. “We’re not going to continue just pounding it out there. It’s so minimal, and it’s not really necessary currently.”
Because it often takes weeks or months for the health department to confirm cause of death, the county only recently reported numerous COVID-19 deaths from the peak of the omicron surge that consumed hospitals over the winter.
Brinker said death reports come from the state and he did not know if there were any additional deaths from the most recent surge that were not included in previous reports. The county does not plan to send out reports of COVID-19 deaths, even if the death occurred months before it stopped sending reports.
“The family knows, believe me,” he said. “It’s just, is it worthy of public knowledge as to a death caused by a virus or a death caused by a car accident every week or two? So that’s what we’re measuring things in terms of resources.”
Dr. Ann-Elizabeth Mohart, chief medical officer at Mercy Hospital Washington, said she thinks the decision is “appropriate.”
“You do have to be mindful of what your resources are,” Mohart said. “So it takes a lot of manpower and a lot of work to compile that data, collect that data, put it together.”
She noted that there are “tremendous public health needs that go beyond just COVID,” citing substance abuse disorders as a chief need among those.
Mohart said Mercy, both locally and across the system, will still track COVID-19, adding hospitalizations is the most important data point at this point in the pandemic.
“The most important data right now, which we are always tracking and always keeping an eye on, is what patients are coming in sick enough that they have to stay in the hospital and they have to potentially be in an intensive care unit,” she said.
Mohart said Mercy will share its own COVID-19 data with The Missourian and other media outlets should the pandemic surge again or become otherwise pressing.