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St. Louis doctors cautiously optimistic as fewer COVID-19 patients fill up hospitals

Some people may be more likely to experience pandemic-related PTSD, such as health care workers and people who have lost a loved one to the virus, said psychologist Alison Menatti.
File photo | David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
A health care worker tends to a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at St. Luke's Hospital in Chesterfield in 2020.

The number of COVID patients hospitalized in St. Louis has steadily decreased since peaking in summer, and doctors and health officials are cautiously optimistic.

In the past week, the region’s four largest hospital systems have admitted about 40 new patients a day, according to the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. That’s down from a high of around 80 people a day in August.

New coronavirus cases and deaths also are declining. There were 541 people who tested positive for the coronavirus in the St. Louis region on Wednesday. That’s a 33% decrease over the past two weeks.

The decrease is a sign the COVID-19 vaccine is effective, said Dr. Robert Poirier, clinical director of the Barnes-Jewish Hospital emergency department. Health care workers at the hospital’s emergency department treat up to 20 COVID patients a day, although fewer of those patients need to be hospitalized, he said.

“The vast majority of people needing admission are those who are unvaccinated, probably about 80%,” said Poirier, an emergency physician at Washington University.

Most older people with underlying health conditions in the region have been vaccinated, he said. A year ago, older people with chronic health problems made up a large share of hospital admissions before vaccinations became widely available.

But Poirier is worried that cases and hospitalizations will increase again over the holidays and as winter approaches. Like other respiratory viruses, the coronavirus thrives in colder weather, he said.

Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, St. Louis health director, called the decrease in cases and hospitalizations “a reassuring trend,” but she said the city and its residents need to remain vigilant against the virus.

“Is that good news? Absolutely,” she said of the decreased hospitalizations. “But … we know that winter is coming, and we’ve seen how that has impacted numbers previously. We also know we see spikes around holidays, and we come to the biggest holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

Hlatshwayo Davis is particularly concerned thatchildren are catching the coronavirus and that some are hospitalized with COVID-19.

“It’s important that while we see overall downward trends, that we do not get complacent about making sure our most vulnerable populations, including our children, are being tended to,” she said.

Hlatshwayo Davis said the region needs to vaccinate more people, increase testing and make quarantine and treatment easier to access.

 Follow Sarah on Twitter: @Petit_Smudge

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