BRANSON, Mo. — Coronavirus infections increased at a higher rate in several rural Missouri counties over the past two weeks compared to the state's major metropolitan areas.
While many more people have been sickened by the virus in major metropolitan areas including St. Louis and Kansas City, the infection rate relative to population has spiked in some rural counties.
Health department data show the highest two-week increase in case rates per 100,000 people in Taney, Pettis, Cooper, New Madrid, Knox, Holt and Marion counties.
At least 269 people have been sickened by the virus over the past two weeks in Taney County, home to the tourist destination of Branson. Cumulatively, state data show 685 have been sickened in the county, which borders Arkansas. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates about 56,000 people live in the county.
A spokeswoman for Cox Medical Center Branson on Friday said the rural hospital is not overwhelmed because most infected people are recovering from the virus at home.
The Branson Board of Aldermen last month voted to require face masks in most public places to slow the spread of the virus, despite pushback from businesses and residents.
Les Carpenter said business at the board game store he owns with his wife dropped when the virus first struck Missouri in March and took another hit when the city required masks.
He said the number of customers has been halved at Boardgame Cafe, which sells board games but also charges admission for customers to borrow and play games at the store.
Carpenter said some of his local regulars told him they're not comfortable wearing a mask and would rather stay home. He said others took the recent mask mandate as a worrisome sign and started limiting their public outings to necessities like grocery shopping.
“For many people, that sends the message that it's not safe to be out,” he said.
Carpenter said the only reason the couple can keep the cafe open is because of an uptick in board game sales by people stuck at home.
Statewide, coronavirus cases continue to rise. The Department of Health and Senior Services reported another 1,473 confirmed cases Friday, bringing the cumulative total in Missouri to at least 65,270.
The seven-day rolling average of new cases per day has been ticking up slightly but is still down compared to last month, when the state repeatedly broke its own records for single-day increases in cases.
On average, another 1,093 cases have been reported in the state every day over the past week, according to an Associated Press analysis of Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 tracking project.