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Hospitalizations for COVID-19 hit record spike in St. Louis area

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 hit record spike in St. Louis area

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY — The St. Louis region’s pandemic response team reported a record high number of COVID-19 hospitalizations Wednesday, even as St. Louis County warned that teenagers have been testing positive for the virus in greater numbers recently.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported that there were 71 new hospital admissions for COVID-19 in the region, a significant increase. The daily admissions number, which reflects data lagging by two days, has hovered at a “plateau” of around 40 for weeks.

“Our data for today, just to be blunt, is fairly alarming,” task force leader Dr. Alex Garza said during a briefing Wednesday afternoon.

It is the largest one-day admissions number the region has seen yet. The task force recorded its previous high, 69 admissions, more than four months ago, on April 8.

Garza said that though he prefers to look at long-term trends rather than daily swings in the numbers, the spike was “hard to ignore.”

The hospitalizations, he said, came from across the metro area and from multiple health systems in the task force, which includes BJC HealthCare, SSM Health, Mercy and St. Luke’s Hospital.

“We can’t continue to see admission numbers up that high,” Garza said. “Eventually it will catch up to the health care systems and we will be unable to provide care for other types of patients, and elective surgeries.”

Teen increase

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said Wednesday that the county is experiencing a “worrisome” rise in cases of COVID-19 among teenagers.

The largest increase has been in the 15- to 19-year-old age group. Page said that it’s not tied to any single event or social gathering, and emphasized that young people can spread the virus to others who have high risk of serious illness.

“The virus spreads easily and it spreads fast, so please take care of yourself, and in doing so you are also taking care of others,” Page said.

Garza said the reasons for the rising cases among the county’s younger residents are “not especially clear,” but sports and social gatherings are the most logical explanations.

Christopher Ave, director of communications for the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, said young county residents have had COVID-19 cases that originated from camps, tournaments, social gatherings, workplaces and trips with family and friends.

The 15- to 19-year-old age group had 50 or fewer cases each month in March, April and May, according to county health department data. In June the number jumped to 135 cases, then to 700 in July. By mid-August, the county had already reported 527 cases.

Adjusted for population, residents over the age of 80 still have the highest rate in the county, followed by residents in their 20s.

Enbal Shacham, a professor at St. Louis University’s College for Public Health and Social Justice, said sporting events and practices may be a factor in the county age data. Some of the increase could also be related to the early effects of a few schools starting classes last week. But that is probably not the main source of the increase, because many area schools started Monday, and it is likely too early to see the impact of that.

Shacham said the numbers for younger groups may have also been lowered somewhat earlier in the pandemic by the fact that testing was especially prioritized for older, more vulnerable individuals.

Missouri reported 1,426 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, reaching a total of 78,062, and 10 more deaths over the last 24 hours. Illinois reported 2,157 new confirmed COVID-19 cases Wednesday, reaching a total of 225,627, and 37 more deaths.

During Wednesday’s briefing, Page also announced that the county has awarded $2.2 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to 13 organizations, with the aim of expanding access to medical care in underserved areas.

Page said residents have asked the county to put the money toward increased access to testing, personal protective equipment, primary and preventive care, mental health services, and aiding patients with emergency health care needs like copays and prescription costs.

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