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New COVID-19 restrictions loom in St. Louis region. 'One last chance,' Page warns

New COVID-19 restrictions loom in St. Louis region. 'One last chance,' Page warns

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ST. LOUIS — Area officials said on Monday that they may soon enact tighter virus restrictions, as the region and state again broke records for COVID-19 hospitalizations.

St. Louis County hospitals are nearly full, County Executive Sam Page said during a briefing. The health department is overwhelmed and exhausted.

“If this doesn’t change a week or two from now, and we are standing here with the same rate of increase, then we will have to be considering more restrictions,” Page said. “We have one last chance to slow the cases of COVID-19 in our community before we are forced to take action.”

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said that if the city is not able to make progress in bringing cases and hospitalizations down, she will consider further business limits.

“What would that look like? I know everybody wants to know that,” Krewson said during a briefing Monday. “There’s not a hard answer to that right now.”

Missouri on Monday reported 2,016 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, a new record for the fifth consecutive day. The state also reported 3,244 new cases of the virus, bringing the total to 212,441.

Illinois reported 10,573 new cases and 4,409 virus patients in hospitals, the highest number since May 13.

Every region of Illinois is currently under heightened virus-related restrictions, and on Monday Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office announced that three regions will move on Wednesday to a higher level of restrictions, including: a reduction of group sizes at bars and restaurants to six people from 10; meetings, social events and gatherings limited to 10 people; and organized recreational activities limited to either 25 guests, or 25% of room capacity — whichever is lower.

Locally, more people are hospitalized with COVID-19 than ever. The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported 78 new patients with confirmed COVID-19, and a record total of 600 COVID-19 patients overall. The previous high was 580 patients on April 21. The task force also reported 153 patients with suspected COVID-19.

“This not only means that the virus is spreading faster than ever, but more people are getting sick enough to be hospitalized,” said Dr. Alex Garza, who leads the task force. “And all of that is happening before we get into the colder weather, where we know the virus will spread even faster.”

The region is running out of intensive care unit capacity, Garza said, with most ICUs in the region nearly full or full.

“Every time we skip wearing a mask, or choose to gather in a group of people who are not socially distancing, we are giving the virus more control over our economy and over our lives,” Garza said.

Page asked county residents to each identify a small group, of 10 people or fewer, to limit personal interactions to this group — and to wear a mask and social distance even when meeting with that small circle. If one member of the group gets sick, everyone must be notified, so they can self-quarantine and get tested.

“You must be able to do your own contact tracing,” Page said. Public health officials are going to dedicate their time to contact tracing for the most vulnerable populations.

The county is recommending that anyone who has traveled or attended an event or gathering recently should self-quarantine for 14 days.

Page said the health department learned of a Halloween party, attended by as many as 200 people, that took place at the home of a De Smet High School student. Five students who attended have tested positive, Page said, and two others have symptoms and are awaiting test results.

Page said every person who attended the party needs to get tested and self-quarantine. The health department will contact school nurses at the all-girls Cor Jesu Academy and Notre Dame High School to ask for their help tracking people who may have attended.

De Smet officials declined to provide details on the number of students who attended the party or the number of positive cases or quarantines among students.

“We are extremely disappointed and frustrated by the unsafe decisions related to the party in question,” De Smet leaders said in a statement.

Since opening in-person in August, the school has not recorded any transmissions of the virus among students on campus, officials said.

Cor Jesu’s senior class moved to virtual learning Friday while the school identified the students who had potentially been exposed to the virus. School officials did not say how many students attended the party, but said they are now under quarantine.

At least 29 schools in the St. Louis region, including three districts — including Fox and Crystal City in Jefferson County and Southwestern in Brighton, Illinois — have temporarily moved to all-virtual learning in the last week.

Blythe Bernhard of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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