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With COVID caseload rising, St. Louis County again at ‘high’ risk

With COVID caseload rising, St. Louis County again at ‘high’ risk

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St. Louis County Executive Sam Page says experts are saying increased COVID numbers are likely the beginning of a winter surge.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY — COVID-19 caseloads in St. Louis County surged last week, driving the county back into a federal “high” risk category for community transmission, County Executive Sam Page said Monday.

The county’s 7-day average rose to 189 on Sunday from 133 a week prior, an increase of 56 cases, or 42%, according to the county health department.

Doctors and health officials have worried that winter could boost coronavirus infections, as cold weather sends gatherings inside. And the virus indeed seems to be spreading more quickly now in northern states and countries, according to the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

“My concern in general as we move into the holidays, as we know, families are going to gather and families are going to travel,” said Dr. Shephali Wulff, an infectious disease specialist at SSM Health and task force member.

The 7-day moving average of St. Louis-area hospital admissions increased to 36 Monday from 34 on Saturday and the 7-day average of hospitalizations increased to 243 Monday from 238 on Saturday, according to the task force.

Cases are increasing statewide, too: Near the end of October, the 7-day average of new cases had declined to 956, down from the 3,032 peak recorded in August. On Monday, the 7-day average was 1,387.

Page said on Monday that the jumps in St. Louis County cases were noticeable among all ages and groups, but the highest infection rates continue among 5- to 14-year-olds.

Christopher Ave, spokesman for the health department, said a different report showed a concerning rise in case rates in children ages 0 to 9. Kids and teens ages 10 to 19, and adults ages 40 to 49 also had what Ave called steep increases.

The rise among those younger ages makes the push to get children vaccinated even more important, Page said.

Rockwood School District told the Post-Dispatch last Thursday that Chesterfield Elementary School has had 29 positive student cases in the last two weeks and 51 student quarantines.

“Chesterfield Elementary is not the first school to have a spike in cases,” district spokeswoman Mary LaPak said.

But Ave, the health department spokesman, said epidemiologists doing the contact tracing and studying the numbers have concluded that most of the actual transmission does not occur in the classroom.

“Just because two kids who go to the same school get infected doesn’t mean that it happened in the classroom,” Ave said.

The virus is being spread in extracurricular activities, he said, and also outside of school, where no teachers or staff are present.

For the most part, schools are doing a good job enforcing masks and distancing, Wulff said.

“But with extracurriculars, especially with sports, they’re not masked, so that’s a significant risk,” she said.

The CDC released updated guidance in July, with a four-level transmission grading scale, meant to help local decision-makers with masking rules. A county or area’s level of risk, per the chart, is determined by the total of new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days.

The county will need to return to less than 100 cases per 100,000 people to fall back into the lower, “substantial” risk category. It reported 115 on Monday.

“COVID is still very much with us,” Wulff said. “It is not a thing of the past. We haven’t beaten this virus, and people who haven’t been vaccinated need to get vaccinated. It’s the only way we are going to protect ourselves from yet another surge.”

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

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