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Metro East coronavirus restrictions likely to be eased Thursday

Metro East coronavirus restrictions likely to be eased Thursday

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The Metro East is poised to loosen coronavirus restrictions as the region’s statistics continue to improve, St. Clair County officials said Wednesday.

Movie theaters, casinos, cultural institutions, offices and fitness centers are allowed to reopen with capacity restrictions in tier two of Illinois’ coronavirus plan. The Metro East — made up of Madison, St. Clair, Bond, Clinton, Monroe, Randolph and Washington counties — is now in tier three, but the region on Wednesday met requirements to enter tier two, said Herb Simmons, director of the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency.

The Illinois Department of Public Health will likely announce the move on Thursday, Simmons said.

“We’re excited about that,” he said.

To move to tier two, the region must have a positivity rate of less than 12% for three consecutive days, using a rolling seven-day average, as well as an ICU capacity of at least 20% for three days and a decline in COVID-19 patients for seven out of 10 days. On Wednesday, the region’s positivity rate was 8.1%.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson cited a similar trend of decreasing cases in the city and surrounding counties Wednesday, saying in a briefing that it was the first time she was even thinking the city would soon meet some of the metrics that mean a relaxation of rules.

“Mitigation procedures plus people getting vaccines will continue to drive our numbers down,” she said, adding that the metrics might be met anywhere from six weeks to three months from now.

Federal data show that roughly half of the vaccine distributed to Missouri and Illinois has not yet been administered.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and Dr. Randall Williams, director of Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services, said in a briefing Wednesday that the apparent delay was due in part to a lag in reporting. Williams said about 140,000 doses of Moderna vaccine have been distributed to long-term health care facilities, but only 26,000 of those doses have been reported as administered by CVS and Walgreens, two companies providing vaccinations.

“That’s a universe right there of about 120,000 that we don’t control the reporting of,” Williams said.

The pharmacies promised to finish vaccinating on Jan. 25, meaning the gap between vaccines received and vaccines administered will likely decrease substantially in the coming days, said Lisa Cox, DHSS spokeswoman.

Parson said Wednesday he was activating the Missouri National Guard to help speed up the process, and that mass vaccination sites would be set up across the state. Nine vaccination teams will each be able to administer 2,500 doses per day, Parson said, adding the guard would start vaccinating by the end of the month and would also help vaccinators catch up on their reporting. He said “targeted” vaccination teams would also be sent to St. Louis and Kansas City “to work with the clergies to assist in the most vulnerable populations.”

Parson said at least 68 vaccinators were manually reporting data, creating “a backlog of paperwork” and making the number of vaccine doses administered appear much smaller than it actually is.

Missouri has received 572,125 doses and administered 244,476, with just under 50,000 having received the two doses necessary for full immunity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Illinois has received 1,094,000 doses and administered 539,926, with 107,651 having received two doses.

Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said most hospital workers with direct exposure to patients have been vaccinated, and hospital systems are moving on to vaccinate healthcare workers in the community, including EMS workers and school nurses.

Krewson said the city has not received any vaccine and has not yet received a firm date on when it may arrive. City officials asked for 5,000 doses for emergency responders, she said.

Missouri reported a decline in the number of coronavirus patients Wednesday, bringing the seven-day average to the lowest level since mid-November.

The state reported 1,592 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, up from 1,357 the day before. But the seven-day average of new cases still fell to 1,802, the lowest level in three months, according to a Post-Dispatch analysis.

Missouri also reported 198 more deaths due to the virus. Of those, 156 occurred earlier: Seven in November, 109 in December and 40 earlier this month.

Illinois reported 4,822 new cases and 107 new deaths, for a total of 1,081,354 cases and 18,398 deaths.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated to correct the phase in which indoor dining is allowed in Illinois bars and restaurants. They reopen with capacity restrictions in the state's tier one public health plan.

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