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Why COVID cases are dropping in St. Louis and beyond

Leading infectious disease specialists said the improving numbers are likely due to multiple factors

ST. LOUIS — The numbers of reported COVID-19 cases are going down in many cities across the United States. In fact, positive case counts are down in St. Louis too. 

"What we've seen is a decrease in the number of COVID cases and subsequently a decrease in the number of patients coming into the hospital," Chief Medical Officer of Mercy Hospital South and Infectious Disease Specialist, Dr. Aamina Akhtar tells 5 On Your Side. 

The question now, is why?

Did the cold snap keep people inside and away from others? Are more people wearing masks? Are vaccinations making a dent in case numbers?

Dr. Akhtar says a big reason is the "gathering season" is over.

"Any travel associated with the holiday season and gathering of people, those exposures are now done," Dr. Akhtar said.

SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Matthew Broom agrees that getting past the holidays has helped. 

"As a country and at least in St. Louis, we've gotten more accustomed to wearing masks. If it's a single layer mask or a double layer mask, a wider percent of our population really does understand that masks indeed work, as does hand washing and social distancing," Dr. Broom said.

Putting the holidays behind us and broader acceptance of COVID-19 guidelines have helped trend St. Louis in the right direction. Dr. Jason Newland, a Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist with Washington University's School of Medicine, said now vaccination rates are starting to factor in. 

"There's no doubt that vaccinations probably have some impact," Dr. Newland said. "I do think that it has helped minimally."

He said by ramping up vaccination rates, COVID-19 cases should fall as a result.

Dr. Newland, Dr. Broom and Dr. Akhtar agreed that the extreme cold of the past two weeks is likely not a factor in the decrease of COVID cases for St. Louis, primarily because being indoors with others is linked to more viral spread. 

All three doctors also agreed that it's not one factor or another contributing to the decline of COVID-19 cases. Dr. Newland, Dr. Broom and Dr. Akhtar told 5 On Your Side it's likely a combination of multiple elements. The Infectious Disease Specialists expect more defined causes will be determined with further research. 

Dr. Broom described the current drop in cases as the "light at the end of the tunnel" and not the home stretch of this pandemic. He along with Dr. Newland and Dr. Akhtar reinforced the importance of wearing masks and social distancing.

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