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'We're almost there': Promising COVID trends could bring changes to St. Louis County mask mandate

Recent COVID data is promising, and we could see changes to mask rules in the county if things continue in the right direction.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — COVID-19 rates are trending in the right direction in St. Louis County, and we could see mask rules loosen if they continue that way, according to St. Louis County Executive Sam Page.

Page struck a hopeful tone at his regular Monday morning coronavirus briefing, announcing what he called a "promising" milestone — 70.1% of county residents have received at least one vaccine dose, while 62% are fully vaccinated. Those vaccination rates are second in the state of Missouri, trailing Joplin by 0.1%.

He had more good news to share: COVID-19 cases and the number of patients hospitalized with the virus are also going down.

"Just a month ago, we were in a very different spot with hospitalizations and COVID cases at record levels," Page said. He credited vaccinations, expanded testing and mitigation measures such as masks for weakening the omicron strain's hold on the county.

Page acknowledged jurisdictions across the country are announcing changes on mask requirements, including Illinois, where the state mask mandate will be lifted starting Feb. 28

RELATED: Illinois dropping mask mandate this month, but not in schools

St. Louis County could see some changes too, but we'd have to see those numbers drop further first, Page said. County leaders are looking at metrics such as average daily cases, the positivity rate and hospitalizations to guide them on what to do next.

"Here's my ask today — stay with us," Page said. "We're almost there. We just need to keep an eye on this virus for a few more weeks to make sure these promising numbers hold. If they do, we can talk about moving from a mask requirement to recommending wearing one in crowded indoor spaces."

The county is currently in the CDC's high threshold for COVID transmission. Page said to consider loosening the mandate, he'd like it to drop into the moderate transmission zone.

To reach that category, the seven-day rate of new cases should be at less than 50 per 100,000 residents. The seven-day positivity rate should be under 8%.

Credit: CDC website

According to the CDC, when a county is in the high or substantial transmission category, everyone is recommended to wear a mask in public, indoor settings. In the moderate or low category, those recommendations are only for unvaccinated people.

As of Monday, the county's seven-day case rate per 100,000 is at 176, and the positivity rate is 16%, according to the St. Louis County Department of Public Health. That's a substantial drop from numbers in early January, when the county was seeing a record-high average of nearly 1,700 cases per day.

Credit: St. Louis County website

"This has been a long road, longer than I ever imagined. We had no idea back in March 2020 the persistence of this virus or the variants that it would produce," Page said. 

"But now we have vaccines and our health care workers are in a much better place with a much better understanding of how to treat the virus. And we know those mitigation efforts from early on do work. Avoid crowds, wash your hands regularly and wear a mask."

Watch the full briefing below:

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