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St. Louis Is In A Race To Vaccinate As Coronavirus Cases Increase Again

Pharmacist Jennifer Kolkmeyer prepares doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine at Christian Hospital in St. Louis on March 4.
Sarah Fentem
St. Louis Public Radio
Pharmacist Jennifer Kolkmeyer prepares doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine at Christian Hospital in St. Louis in March. As of mid-April, nearly one-third of Missouri residents have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

The number of new coronavirus cases in the St. Louis region is rising after weeks of stable numbers.

Public health officials say the region is now in a race to encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine before the virus becomes more widespread.

“Right now we are in the most difficult phases of the pandemic,” said Dr. Faisal Khan, director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health. “Public patience is wearing thin, people are increasingly skeptical, and exhaustion at an emotional level is perhaps building up.”

There has been an average of about 400 new coronavirus cases per day over the past week in the bi-state area, according to data collected by the New York Times. That’s a 10% increase over the week before.

Health officials in the St. Louis region say people need to make sure they don’t let their guard down, even as the vaccine becomes more available.

Missouri and Illinois are among several states that are seeing more coronavirus cases. Michigan has had a nearly 50% increase in new cases over the past 14 days, driven in part by positive cases in young people.

Missouri’s new surge is proof that the pandemic is far from over, Khan said.

“The virus decides when it’s going to disappear,” he said. “That is clearly not on the horizon. …We are still in the middle of this pandemic.”

More contagious coronavirus variants are becoming prevalent in the state, Khan said, which is likely contributing to the upward trend.

Although more people are getting sick, hospitalizations haven’t followed suit, said Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. The number of people being admitted to the hospital with the coronavirus has recently plateaued.

That’s likely because most of Missouri’s most vulnerable residents — the elderly — are now vaccinated, which has kept new hospitalizations low, he said. Younger people are less likely to get gravely sick with COVID-19.

About one-fifth of Missouri residents and one-fourth of Illinois residents are fully vaccinated.

Still, that more people are testing positive for the virus is cause for concern, Garza said.

“It tells us the virus is still circulating; it’s not slowing down,” he said.

People in the St. Louis area need to wait until more people are fully vaccinated before they let their guard down, Garza said. Unless a person knows for sure that everyone they will be close to is fully vaccinated, they need to continue to wear masks and avoid crowds, he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency opened a large-scale site at the Dome at America’s Center in downtown St. Louis, but so far vaccination totals at the site have been lower than officials expected.

As of Wednesday, an average of 1,250 people a day are receiving a COVID-19 shot at the federal site. That’s less than half of the 3,000 shots available at the Dome daily.

FEMA officials think those numbers will soon increase.

Interest in the site is growing as workersgive second doses and allow people who are not registered online to get shots, said Deanna Frazier, a spokeswoman for FEMA.

“Once those numbers weren’t as high as what we’d hoped, we opened it up to walk-ins, and we are so glad we did,” she said.

About 75% of people who are receiving vaccinations at the Dome arrive without an appointment, Frazier said.

The agency is working with schools and churches to let residents know about the vaccination site, she said.

Early Wednesday afternoon, more than 2,000 people had registered to receive a vaccine there, and that didn’t include walk-ins, Frazier said.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: Petit_Smudge

Sarah is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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