ST. LOUIS — The pace of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in Missouri and Illinois has slowed in the past two weeks, leading some officials to express tentative hopes Monday that new restrictions were working. Health leaders, meanwhile, cautioned that any dip in numbers now was likely temporary, at best.
Missouri has reported an average of 3,599 new cases per day over the past week, down from a peak of 4,723 in November, according to a Post-Dispatch analysis. Illinois is reporting an average of 9,994 new cases, down from a November peak of 12,722.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said statewide pandemic restrictions that took effect Nov. 20 may be working to offset an expected post-holiday surge, but their effectiveness will not be clear for at least two more weeks. There is still a long way to go, he said, before the state is out of “the danger zone.”
“These next four weeks may be the most crucial month of this entire pandemic,” Pritzker said.
New reported cases in St. Louis County dipped to 617 on Monday. In mid-November, average daily cases peaked at about 850 a day. Christopher Ave, director of communications for the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, said the department doesn’t want to over-interpret the trend, but thinks the numbers could be a reflection of tighter restrictions that took effect in St. Louis County on Nov. 17.
Missouri hospitalizations have fallen to about 2,700 per day, down from a late November peak of about 2,800. Illinois hospitals are reporting about 5,200 hospitalizations per day now, down from a high of about 6,200 two weeks ago.
Officials and health leaders alike, however, warned that the apparent improvements may be due to artificial factors like backlogs and delayed testing over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Dr. Alex Garza, who leads the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said Monday that it is possible that there is a true decrease in new infections, but that is “probably not the case.”
Virus numbers toward the end of this week and the beginning of next will be a better indication of the impact of Thanksgiving, he said.
The task force reported a seven-day average of 113 new COVID-19 admissions to area BJC HealthCare, SSM Health, Mercy and St. Luke’s Hospital facilities, down from a peak of 141 on Nov. 22, but still more than triple the level reported two months earlier.
“I can’t find, really, much good news in that,” Garza said.
And death numbers are rising. Task force data shows that in mid-October, hospitals here were reporting seven patient deaths due to COVID-19 on average each day. Now they are reporting 21.
“The virus is fatal to a certain percentage of the patients. And when more people get sick with COVID, more people are going to die. That’s the deadly math we are seeing right now,” Garza said.
Illinois hospitalizations are still 14% above the highest level seen in the spring. And deaths there are surging, too. The state’s seven-day average was 152 new COVID-19 deaths on Monday, compared to a peak of 117 in the spring.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said it is too early to know the full impact of the holiday.
Using the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend as a time stamp, only about a week has passed since people may have traveled and gathered with family and friends from outside their household.
“It’s really early,” Ezike said.
These maps and charts show the spread of COVID-19 in Missouri and Illinois.
Annika Merrilees • 314-340-8528 @annie3mer on Twitter firstname.lastname@example.org