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St. Louis health director urges vigilance as COVID cases plateau

Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, City of St. Louis Department of Health director, addresses the media on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, during a press conference on recent federal approvals of the coronavirus vaccine for children 5 to 11 years of age outside of Gateway Elementary School in St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, St. Louis' health director, shown at a November press conference, says that while coronavirus numbers are improving, the city is not out of the woods yet.

In a bit of good news for beleaguered hospitals and health care workers, coronavirus case numbers appear to be leveling off in the city of St. Louis.

Data presented to the Joint Board of Health and Hospitals on Thursday by Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, the city’s health director, showed the seven-day moving average of cases plateauing over the past week. However, the peak of the omicron wave — 507 cases — was more than triple the peak of a surge last winter. Because hospitalizations and deaths lag cases by two weeks or more, the health care system remains heavily burdened.

The downward trend is encouraging, Hlatshwayo Davis said, but residents should not be lured into a false sense of security by the word “plateau.”

“These are still incredibly high numbers compared to where we were last year, and of course concerning because we have a lot more tools at our disposal,” she said. Last winter’s peak occurred before vaccines were widely available.

Hlashwayo Davis said the city remains focused on increasing the number of people who are vaccinated and boosted. As soon as the resources are available, the health department will expand its vaccine incentive program to include second and booster doses. And on Jan. 29, the health department will host its first pediatric vaccination clinic at the community center in the Clinton-Peabody housing complex.

“The goal here is to partner this with education initiatives, to make sure that folks are more comfortable with knowing why this is so critically important, and then taking vaccines to people using trusted messengers,” Hlatshwayo Davis said.

About 44% of the city’s 5-to-11-year-olds have gotten at least their first dose. But the rates are much lower in north St. Louis ZIP codes. As a whole, about 60% of the city’s 5-plus population is considered fully vaccinated, and another 20% have received a booster. However, the same disparities that exist among pediatric vaccination rates are present in the overall rates.

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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.