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St. Louis task force urges everyone to wear a mask as COVID cases increase

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force released an urgent plea Tuesday afternoon as cases continue to rise in Missouri and the St. Louis area

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis area hospitals task force is asking everyone, even those who are vaccinated, to return to wearing masks in public places.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force released an urgent plea Tuesday afternoon as cases continue to rise in Missouri and the St. Louis area. The task force said the region is “bracing for a third wave of COVID-19 that could exceed the death and serious illness experienced last winter.”

“When we first initiated masking and social distancing guidelines, the goal was to wear masks for protection until a vaccine was available,” explained Dr. Clay Dunagan, acting head of the task force. “The vaccine is available, but unfortunately the vaccination rate in our community has not been high enough to prevent spread of the delta variant. We now need to return to masking to combat this new wave of infections.”

The task force reports that In the last 24 hours, seven people in the St. Louis area have died from COVID-19. There are also 91 COVID-19 patients in area intensive care units. Nearly all of those patients were unvaccinated.

Credit: KSDK
This chart shows the weekly cases of COVID-19 in the St. Louis area through July 14, 2021.

If more people don’t start wearing masks or getting vaccinated, task force leaders said hospitals might need to take drastic measures again to control the volume of patients in the health systems, including restricting visitors and pausing elective procedures.

The task force is asking everyone to wear a mask when in public spaces – including grocery stores, restaurants and businesses – when the vaccination status of everyone around you isn’t known. This guidance also goes for those who are vaccinated. The task force said people who are fully vaccinated can still pass COVID-19 along to others who are vulnerable.

Mask wearing is not being mandated.

“This is about personal choice and we’re urging our community to choose to protect one another,” said Dr. Dunagan. “Maybe you won’t personally get sick, and maybe your children won’t either, but you can still transmit the disease to others and continue the spread.”

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services COVID-19 dashboard shows 40.3% of Missourians have completed the vaccination process as of Tuesday afternoon. Herd immunity doesn’t happen until around the 70-80% range, doctors have told 5 On Your Side. With vaccination rates low in Missouri and the St. Louis area, the task force hospitals said mask wearing should continue for everyone.

“I know this doesn’t seem fair,” said Dr. Dunagan. “The CDC has approved removing masks among vaccinated individuals. But our community doesn’t have enough vaccinated individuals to safely implement these recommendations in the face of the influx of the delta variant. The safest thing for our community and the most effective way to get back on track is to wear masks – and get vaccinated!”

A third wave of cases and deaths is preventable, the task force said, noting that vaccines are widely available, free, safe and effective.

Task force hospitals realized released the following data Tuesday afternoon, combining figures from the four major health systems (BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health, St. Luke’s Hospital) that are part of the task force.

The data for July 20, 2021 is as follows:

  • New hospital admissions (data lagged two days) increased – from 35 yesterday to 49 today.
  • The seven-day moving average of hospital admissions (data lagged two days) increased – from 39 yesterday to 42 today.
  • The seven-day moving average of hospitalizations increased – from 249 yesterday to 256 today.
  • Inpatient confirmed COVID positive hospitalizations increased – from 264 yesterday to 279 today.
  • Inpatient suspected COVID positive hospitalizations decreased – from 38 yesterday to 35 today.
  • The number of confirmed COVID positive patients in the ICUs decreased – from 91 yesterday to 86 today.
  • The number of confirmed COVID positive patients on ventilators remained the same at 45 today.
  • The number of COVID deaths decreased– from 6 yesterday to 1 today.
  • The seven-day moving average of COVID deaths decreased – from 3 yesterday to 2 today.
  • Across the system hospitals, 45 patients have been discharged, bringing the cumulative number of COVID-19 patients discharged to 23,673.

The staffed bed hospital capacity is at a 92% average across task force hospitals Tuesday. The ICUs are at 79% of their total staffed bed capacity.

Credit: KSDK
Credit: KSDK
Credit: KSDK
Credit: KSDK

For more information on vaccination sites and clinics you can check 5 On Your Side’s latest coverage for the St. Louis area or visit Missouri’s COVID-19 vaccination website.

The plea Tuesday comes after the Missouri health department issued a sixth hotspot advisory for new COVID-19 cases. The latest advisory includes Phelps, Pulaski and Laclede counties. The latest warning even states the surge in cases is expected to continue moving along I-44 toward the St. Louis area.