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St. Louis coronavirus cases spike to highest level since January

Dr. Patrick Reich, who specializes in infectious diseases, takes a photo of Kora Felsch, center, and her daughters Irene, 7, and Mary, 6, on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Both Mary and Irene received their COVID-19 vaccines after the federal government approved vaccinations for children from 5 to 12 years-of-age.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Dr. Patrick Reich photographs Kora Felsch, center, and her daughters Irene and Mary at a vaccine clinic last month at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Health officials say unless more people get vaccinated, the coronavirus will continue to spread.

The daily number of new coronavirus cases in the St. Louis region is reaching a level not seen since January. Hospitals also are reporting an increase in COVID-19 patients.

The St. Louis metro area is reporting an average of over 1,300 new coronavirus cases a day, according to New York Times data.

Doctors say waning vaccine protection, colder weather and holiday gatherings are helping to transmit the virus, which could continue to spread rapidly during the winter.

“This pattern is particularly troubling when you consider the newly highly transmissible omicron variant is not causing community transmission in our region as far as we know,” Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, the St. Louis health director, said Thursday during a meeting of the Joint Board of Health and Hospitals.

Only one omicron infection has been detected in a St. Louis resident, earlier this month, by a lab outside the city, she said.

Scientistsare still researching whether the omicron variant is more deadly or more resistant to vaccines than earlier strains.

Sewage testing indicates the delta strain of the virus still comprises 100% of the cases in St. Louis. However, the speed with which the omicron variant has spread globally likely indicates it will spread in St. Louis.

“Right now we’re trying to get in front of any omicron-related panic, which is not relevant at this time,” she said.

The health department plans to increase testing and first-time vaccinations this winter and educate people about the science of the virus, including why it's important to get the COVID-19 vaccine and wear a mask. The department also will work to inform business owners on how they can improve ventilation to help keep the virus from spreading, she said.

The news of the increasing cases is discouraging, said Enbal Shacham, a public health professor at St. Louis University.

“We are struck with feeling just at a loss, because we’re seeing this high infection rate,” she said. “We’re having a health care system that’s really tired, a public health workforce that’s also really tired.”

Unlike last year, when vaccines were not yet available, there are now ways people can enjoy the holidays with friends and family, Shacham said. But she advises people to get the COVID-19 shot or a booster dose and get tested for the virus, and make sure they wear a mask, before visiting at-risk relatives.

Last winter, “we were so creative,” she said. “We have to go back to some of that, thinking of how we prioritize our community at large.”

If people want to go out, they should consider an outdoor or less crowded place or a place that requires proof of vaccinations, she said.

“It feels like we’re not able to do anything to stop it,” Shacham said. “And that’s not true. We can do better. And we need to do better.”

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

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