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St. Louis doctors again urge masks, vaccines as COVID-19 hospitalizations rise

A hospital worker rolls equipment through the intensive care
Courtesy Erin Jones
Barnes-Jewish Hospital
A hospital worker rolls equipment through the intensive care unit at Barnes Jewish Hospital in April 2020. St. Louis Pandemic Task Force leaders say COVID-19 hospitalizations are again rising across the region.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is again rising in the St. Louis area, according to the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

In the region’s hospital systems, 130 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, with 16 people in ICUs and six on ventilators.

“That’s not a great prognostic sign for those individuals,” said Dr. Clay Dunagan, St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force co-leader. “So we are seeing some important and serious infections with this disease.”

The number of hospitalizations is still significantly lower than earlier in the pandemic. The task force reported more than 1,000 hospitalizations in January. Dunagan said the St. Louis region has not reported a COVID-19 death in the past few days, but he noted that deaths often lag behind increased case numbers.

Task force officials say the coronavirus is spreading in the region at a rate about five times higher than six weeks ago. The recent surge matches reports from health departments across the country following the end of mask mandates.

“Now we are clearly in yet another trend of increased infections, and we anticipate some increases in hospitalizations as well, though not really to the magnitude that we’ve seen in earlier waves,” said Dr. Alex Garza, also a co-leader of the Pandemic Task Force.

Garza said while the growing number of infections is still much lower than the peak recorded over the winter, there’s a lot of virus in the community. He urged people to take precautions to protect themselves from the virus, including getting the COVID-19 vaccine and wearing masks indoors.

The federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that people over 50 get a second booster shot if it’s been four months since their last booster. Children ages 5-11 are eligible to get the Pfizer COVID-19 booster.

“If you’re not fully vaccinated and boosted, now is the time to do that, and if your children are eligible, get them up to date on their vaccinations as soon as you can,” Garza said.

Garza and Dunagan also said people with respiratory symptoms should stay home and take a coronavirus test. They said those who test positive should talk to their caregiver about antiviral therapies to treat the virus.

Dunagan said people who are vaccinated still need to monitor symptoms.

“If you’ve been vaccinated, all you really need to do is monitor yourself for symptoms,” Dunagan said. “After about five days it would be wise to get a test and just be clear that you don’t have an asymptomatic infection.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.