ST. LOUIS — Coronavirus case rates and hospitalizations in Missouri have reached levels not seen since winter.
The virus has taken hold in southwest Missouri, where hospitalizations are at near-record levels. And in recent weeks, the St. Louis region has also begun to report rising numbers of infections and hospital admissions. Health officials have warned that without aggressive action, St. Louis could follow a trajectory similar to that of southwest Missouri.
Dr. Nitin Anand, an intensive care unit physician at Missouri Baptist Medical Center in Town and Country, said the hospital has seen a steady rise in COVID-19 patients over the past few weeks.
So far at the hospital, this wave has been more manageable than the previous waves of the virus, which arrived last spring, last summer and then, most severely, in the winter.
“But it’s perhaps the most tragic,” Anand said. “The hospitalizations and deaths are preventable.”
This time, vaccines that offer strong protection against the virus are widely available, Anand said. And with vaccination rates lagging among younger age groups, hospital staff are treating a steadily younger COVID-19 patient population.
Statewide, 81% of people between 65 and 84 have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared with 41% of people between 25 and 34 years old.
“The patients have become younger and healthier, so we would expect outcomes to actually improve, of patients entering the ICU,” Anand said. “But patients are getting just as sick as they did in the past.”
Anand said he used to believe that by this date, COVID-19 would have begun to slowly disappear in the region and only a few sporadic cases would remain. Instead, the ICU is treating virus patients in numbers similar to last summer.
The overwhelming majority of coronavirus patients are unvaccinated. The ICU at Missouri Baptist has only treated one COVID-19 patient who was fully vaccinated, Anand said, and that patient relied on a medication that had likely weakened his reaction to the vaccine.
Statewide, there were 1,357 COVID-19 patients reported Friday in hospitals across Missouri, the highest number since Feb. 12. There were 425 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units, the highest number since Jan. 27. Hospitalization data lags three days, and not every hospital reports every day.
The state reported 2,337 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 on Friday, pushing the seven-day average above 1,800 for the first time since early February, according to a Post-Dispatch analysis. The state reported seven more deaths due to the virus.
So far in Missouri, 2.81 million people have received a first dose of vaccine, or 45.8% of the total population. Of those, 2.46 million have been fully vaccinated, or 40% of the population.
Since July 1, St. Louis and St. Louis County have recommended that all residents, including the vaccinated, wear a mask when indoors with other individuals whose vaccination status is unknown. But as of Friday, neither jurisdiction was planning to reinstate mask mandates, business capacity rules or limitations on gatherings.
A spokeswoman for Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in an email Friday that with vaccines now widely available, there are no plans to reinstate restrictions in the Metro East.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said Friday that new public health orders are “not on the table at this time.”
“The rapid rise in cases is alarming, and we have the ability to stop the virus with a safe, effective and free vaccine,” Page said in a statement. “So our priority is to get as many people vaccinated as we can as quickly as we can.”
The county on Monday will begin offering COVID-19 vaccines to all students 12 and older as part of its annual back-to-school vaccination program run by the health department. In the next few weeks, the county will roll out a program offering gift cards as incentives for vaccination. And the health department is working with barbershops and beauty salons to distribute information to residents about the urgency of getting vaccinated.
St. Louis city acting health director Dr. Fredrick Echols encouraged residents to wear masks and practice hand hygiene and social distancing. Slowing the spread of the virus will help protect the city’s most vulnerable, Echols said, including children younger than 12, who are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines. It will also reduce the likelihood of more variants emerging.
Taking those basic measures that health officials have talked about since the beginning of the pandemic, Echols said, can slow the spread of the virus.
“However, if that doesn’t happen, we may have to take additional steps to protect the community at large,” Echols said. “We know that we’re not exempt from having a surge in COVID-19 cases.”
No state incentives
Meanwhile, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson told the Springfield News-Leader that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had halted the state’s plan to begin an incentive program to encourage vaccinations.
“The CDC didn’t accept our plan, which is just totally ridiculous that they would turn us down with Missouri in the situation we’re in right now. So I think it’s just another obvious problem with the CDC,” Parson said.
A spokeswoman for Parson on Friday didn’t immediately respond to a request for additional details about the Missouri plan and why the CDC denied it.
The agency reviewed the plan and returned it to the state because it didn’t meet CDC guidelines for use of the specific federal funds the state wanted to draw from for this project, a CDC official said.
This article was originally published on Website: www.stltoday.com
Author is: Annika Merrilees
The Associated Press contributed to this report.