The number of Missouri deaths from COVID-19 reported since Jan. 1 has exceeded the number reported during 2020.

As of Dec. 31, 2020, the Department of Health and Senior Services reported 5,519 deaths from the coronavirus that killed its first Missouri victim on March 18, 2020. On Friday, the total reached 11,046.

The grim report came as total cases are rising again, more school districts are imposing mask requirements and the statewide message on masks is becoming murkier. On Thursday, new state health Director Donald Kauerauf told reporters that “masks work” and “it only makes sense to wear a mask” as Attorney General Eric Schmitt is pursuing lawsuits against school districts and municipalities that issue mask mandates.

The state health department reported 2,526 COVID-19 cases on Friday, and the seven-day average of reported cases stood at 2,267 per day. That is up 8.5 percent from a week earlier, and the number of new cases increased in 78 of 118 local health jurisdictions reported by the department.

There were 1,943 people hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, the most recent day available, with 503 being treated in ICUs. Both totals are down about 20 percent from their peak since the Delta variant wave began.

The highest rates for new infections continue to be in southeast Missouri. The state health department on Wednesday issued a hotspot advisory for Bollinger and Madison counties. Bollinger County is one of six in the state where infection rates so far this month have exceeded the rate for the full month of August. In Madison County, the infection rate so far this month is 90 percent of the rate for all of August.

Wastewater monitoring, which initially identified the arrival of the Delta variant in the state and helped identify where it would strike next, is not showing a significant decline in viral loads, said University of Missouri professor of immunology Marc Johnson, who analyzes wastewater samples for the Department of Health and Senior Services.

Wastewater numbers have been pretty static with occasional spikes, but most places continue to have a pretty strong signal,” Johnson said. “I expect it to continue more or less like this for a while.”

The report that shows the state health department has added 5,527 cases since Dec. 31 does not mean there have been that many deaths this year. Most Missouri deaths from COVID-19 do not show up on the department’s daily report the day or even the week after they occur. 

Because of the delays, the total deaths attributed to COVID-19 that occurred in 2020 is 6,941 as of Friday, a number that has increased as recently as this week. Since July 27, the state has recorded 27 deaths from 2020 that were not previously reported.

Those delayed reports, along with have pushed the death rate for lab-confirmed cases from 1.41 percent of Missouri cases on Dec. 31 to 1.68 percent on Friday.

And because cases identified with the faster antigen test have been an increasing share of all cases throughout the summer, the gap between the number of deaths reported by local health departments and the state’s report has grown.

Deaths from cases identified with an antigen test, which detect virus proteins and can give results in minutes, are not reported by the state.

In late July, when the state reported deaths exceeded 10,000, a review of local health department reports by The Independent found 1,180 unreported deaths. A review of those same local health agency reports early this week found almost 1,350 deaths that are not reflected in the state report.

As of Friday, the state has reported 1,882 deaths since the Delta variant was first detected. That total includes 859 deaths in August, making it the fifth deadliest month of the pandemic.

The deadliest month was December, with 1,775 deaths reported.

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