© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

St. Louis recommends masks for employees, residents as hospitalizations rise

A Black woman with curly hair adjusts her blue and silver glittered mask.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Mayor Tishaura Jones adjusts her mask before announcing the creation of the Downtown Engagement and Public Safety Initiative in September 2021 at Kiener Plaza in downtown St. Louis.

Updated at 3:30 p.m. with city officials rolling back a masking requirement for city workers and now only recommending that they wear masks.

St. Louis health officials are again recommending that residents wear masks indoors or in crowded spaces where social distancing isn’t possible as cases of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses rise throughout the region.

The city also is recommending that city employees wear masks indoors starting Friday, said a spokesman for Mayor Tishaura Jones. The city on Thursday sent employees a letter announcing that they would be required to wear masks but on Friday issued a clarification announcing that the city is recommending that workers wear masks.

“This recommendation doesn’t come lightly — it is data-driven and focused on lowering community transmission of potentially deadly diseases,” Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, the city's health director, wrote in a press release announcing the recommendation for residents. “If we all do our part and voluntarily mask up, we can expect the number of cases and hospitalizations to decrease over the coming weeks.”

Cases of the flu “are trending nearly vertically upward,” Health Department officials said. The number of people being hospitalized for the flu and other respiratory illnesses also is going up.

It’s common for cases of respiratory viruses to increase in winter months, when people are inside and packed close together, doctors say. Holiday gatherings and parties further increase transmission.

In the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients in the region’s hospitals increased by nearly 40%. City officials said 270 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 during the week of Christmas.

Flu cases rose 455% in that period, with young adults and middle-age people accounting for the largest number of infections, health officials said. More people are also being hospitalized with RSV, a respiratory virus that is most dangerous for infants and elderly people.

St Louis and St. Louis County governments let pandemic-related requirements for face coverings in public spaces expire in March 2022. Hlatshwayo Davis, an infectious disease physician, has said she would be willing to put restrictions back in place if transmission increases significantly.

Fewer people are dying from the coronavirus than in years past, thanks to vaccinations and acquired immunity to the virus, hospital officials have said.

The four major hospital systems in the region had dropped their mask requirements in March. BJC HeathCare in December put a mask requirement for employees in place again, citing rising rates of RSV, flu and the coronavirus.

Wearing masks, avoiding crowds and other precautions that decrease transmission protect immunocompromised patients and elderly people who are most likely to get very sick if they catch the coronavirus, city officials said in the press release.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has placed St. Louis and St. Louis County in a “medium” hospitalization level, a tool the agency uses to illustrate how prevalent the coronavirus is in a community.

The CDC recommends people in counties with “medium” coronavirus hospitalization levels wear an N-95 or other high-quality mask if they’re at risk for becoming very sick. The agency also recommends people self-test for the virus before coming into contact with people vulnerable to severe illness and wear masks while indoors with them.

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