Stephanie Browning approached the podium in the council chambers at the Daniel Boone City Building onFriday afternoon and slammed down a stack of papers several inches thick.
The director of the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department said she wanted to give the people at the news conference regarding the extension of coronavirus-related health orders "a glimpse" into the lives of her staff.
“This stack represents the number of new positive cases in Boone County this week alone,” Browning said. “It may look like just a stack of papers, but these are people's lives that have been impacted. Simply put, this is out of control.”
Browning was among a half-dozen officials who spoke at the community briefing. As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Boone County, and across the state and country, she announced the Columbia and Boone County health orders will be extended an additional three weeks beginning Wednesday and continuing through Dec. 8.
Those orders restrict large gatherings and require bars and restaurants to stop serving alcohol at 10:30 p.m.
Browning said some residents have contributed to the increase in Boone County by finding ways to avoid its social distancing rules.
“We have people here in Columbia that are going out of town to weddings because they can't come to gather in sizes they want under our order,” she said. “And they're coming back, and they're getting this virus, and they’re bringing it back. We've seen several of those cases.”
Columbia Mayor Brian Treece said the extent to which COVID-19 has spread within the county is not sustainable as there have been triple-digit increases in positive cases on a daily basis, along with a dramatic rise in hospitalizations.
“As of today, we have 153 patients hospitalized in Boone County, 45 were in the ICU, 20 more on ventilators,” Treece said. “We learned that each of our hospitals has been forced to divert patients and defer referrals from other hospitals.”
Treece also said cases are becoming unmanageable as schools, businesses and critical infrastructure are struggling to provide basic services.
Boone County Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill acknowledged cases are surging but said he does not believe a countywide mask ordinance is necessary at the moment, although county officials talk about it "all the time." Columbia's city-wide mask ordinance, however, remains in effect.
“We rely heavily on the recommendations of the Health Department, and at this point in time that is not an order, or part of the new order or the existing order,” Atwill said. “So that's a difficult issue. It's an issue that has difficult enforcement elements, and I'm comfortable with not having a countywide order at this time and go beyond the boundaries of municipalities."
UM System President and MU Chancellor Mun Choi said a temporary thinning of the population with MU students remaining home after Thanksgiving break should help mitigate COVID-19 cases in Boone County.
“I could not have imagined, nor anyone at the university, that we would manage through the fall term having more than 1,900 students contract COVID,” Choi said, adding that the decisions university administrators have made are intended to benefit not only the school's students, staff and faculty but also "the health and welfare of our community."
Treece noted that 75% of the state's positive COVID-19 cases have been in counties with no mask ordinance. Almost 20 counties and cities in Missouri have issued COVID-19 orders, including mask orders, but none of those are adjacent to Boone County.
Treece implored "everybody who can hear my voice, not just in Columbia, not just Boone County, but all of mid-Missouri" to wear masks, wash their hands frequently, maintain social distance and consider whether gathering with family over the holidays is a good idea. He also suggested that anyone who attends a large gathering of people volunteer to self-quarantine.