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St. Louis hospitals continue to see record COVID-19 numbers

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Area nurses too closer to breaking point than ever before

Micha Toombs, left, and Katie Lappas, registered nurses in St. Mary's intensive care unit, care for patient on Monday, Sep. 27, 2021 in the hospital's unit. Area nurses now face their greatest tests because of the never-ending pandemic, long hours, being short-staffed, low vaccination rates, and so many Covid-19 deaths. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — While some states are reporting a slight decline in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, suggesting the most recent surge may be easing, the numbers remain stubbornly high in the St. Louis area, local hospitals report.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, in an update on Thursday, said its member hospitals treated a record average of 1,385 COVID-19 patients each day of the past week, up from 1,381 a day earlier.

There were 1,399 patients in the task force hospitals as of Wednesday — the latest available data — up from 1,392 a day earlier, the task force said. Hospitalizations began setting records Jan. 3, when they surpassed the December 2020 peak of 962.

The task force represents the regions four big private health care systems — BJC HealthCare, SSM Health, Mercy and St. Luke’s — and the Veterans Affairs hospital system.

Area hospitals admitted 221 COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, up from the 175 COVID-19 patients who were newly hospitalized a day earlier. But on average, fewer people were newly admitted to hospitals for COVID-19 each day of the past week. The rolling seven-day average of hospital admissions was 207 on Wednesday, down from 210 a day earlier.

Locally and in some parts of the country, health officials have reported a slight decline in COVID-19 cases and admissions since hitting all-time highs just a few days ago.

The highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus is responsible for the latest spike in the pandemic, which marks its second anniversary on Thursday. On Jan. 21, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first COVID-19 case in Seattle.

In a weekly briefing on Tuesday, task force leaders warned it was too soon to celebrate a dip in COVID-19 cases because the relatively high case numbers continue to send more patients to hospitals than previously seen for most of the pandemic. The Post-Dispatch reported Wednesday that area hospitals were requesting emergency staff from the federal government to help manage the surge.

The task force said, as of Wednesday, 91% of hospital beds in the St. Louis area were occupied. At least 84% of beds in the hospitals’ intensive care units were also filled.

Three of the hospital systems report vaccination data for their COVID-19 patients. Of the 1,250 of the COVID patients at those hospitals, 58%, or 727 patients, were not fully vaccinated, the task force said.

The total number of patients in task force hospitals include 43 children and teens younger than 18; 13 of them were in intensive care units. Twenty-one of the children were younger than age 11; six of them were in intensive care.

Statewide, Missouri reported a rolling average of 8,840 new COVID-19 cases a day, down from 9,524 a day earlier an all-time high of 10,779 on Jan. 9.

But the state is still recording more new daily COVID-19 cases than it did for most of the pandemic; the average case rate is more than twice as high as a previous peak of 4,722 on Nov. 20, 2020.

In Illinois, state health officials reported an average of 24,674 new COVID-19 cases a day, down from 26,491 a day earlier.

The average of new COVID-19 cases recorded each day has dropped over the past week from an all-time high of 32,501 reached on Jan. 12.

But the case rate remains more than twice the record peak in the first surge of the pandemic in 2020.

The average daily death rate in Illinois due to COVID-19 increased Thursday to 109, up from 101 a day earlier.

The state reported 199 new COVID-19 deaths, raising the total death toll to 29,708.

A total of 13,669 people in Missouri have been killed by COVID-19 during the pandemic. Thirty-two of the deaths occurred in the last week, according to state records.

Every county in Missouri and Illinois remained in the CDC’s “high transmission” category as of Thursday, meaning that more than 100 out of every 100,000 people test positive for COVID-19 each day on average over the previous week.

As of Wednesday, about 65.5% of Illinois residents were fully vaccinated, above a national average vaccination rate of 63%.

Missouri reported about 54.7% of people here have been fully vaccinated. About a fifth of Missourians have received a booster dose.

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Reporter covering St. Louis County politics. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi, and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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