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Missouri COVID-19 infections tick upward, as providers prepare for 550,000 residents to become eligible for vaccines

Missouri COVID-19 infections tick upward, as providers prepare for 550,000 residents to become eligible for vaccines

Moderna vaccine arrives for retirement home residents

Brandi Smith, administrator at the Cottages of Lake St. Louis gets vaccinated by Walgreens pharmacist Molly Hood as the first dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine arrived for staff and residents on Monday, Dec. 28, 2020. Smith lost her father to the virus on Dec. 19. His funeral service was two days ago. Photo by Robert Cohen,

ST. LOUIS — Missouri’s rate of new coronavirus cases ticked up for the sixth straight day on Friday, after months of decline, even as area health providers hustled to vaccinate seniors and first responders before a tidal wave of eligibility opens on Monday.

The state’s coronavirus infection rate has tumbled since the fall, when Missouri hit a peak seven-day average of 4,723 new confirmed cases on Nov. 20. That average fell as low as 343 on March 6, but has since edged upward, to 395 on Friday.

“It’s a vulnerable time, and we need to continue to use all methods available to contain this disease, at this point,” said Dr. Sriram Vissa, chief medical officer at SSM Health DePaul Hospital.

On Monday, 550,000 more Missourians will become eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, when the state opens Phase 1B Tier 3. That group includes teachers, some government workers, water and energy services employees, agriculture workers and childcare workers, among others. But some health care providers have warned that they might not immediately have vaccines available for that group.

The head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force cautioned during a briefing last week that many area hospitals are still trying to vaccinate more in the current tier — seniors and first responders, for instance — before moving into the next group. St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said on Friday that 115,000 city residents are eligible now, but only 35,800 have received a first dose, according to state data. The city aims to administer about 2,000 more doses at a vaccination event Saturday, Krewson said.

Jefferson County, where only 12% of residents have received a first dose, announced on Friday that it, too, would continue to prioritize the groups that are eligible now.

“While we support the Governor’s decision to open Tier 3, in Jefferson County we are still working to vaccinate a large number of individuals who are at higher risk of morbidity and mortality,” county health department Director Kelley Vollmar said in a statement.

Residents age 60 and older represent 93% of the COVID-19 fatalities in Jefferson County.

Residents interested in signing up for a vaccine in Jefferson County can visit the health department website and select the “COVID-19 Vaccine Interest Survey.” Those without internet access can call the county’s vaccine registration line at 636-789-8941.

Statewide, more than 1.1 million people have received a first dose of vaccine, or 18% of the population. And of those, more than 600,000 have received a second dose, or about 10%.

While the true threshold is unknown, experts estimate that a community may need 70% to 85% of the population to have immunity against COVID-19 before the virus becomes unlikely to spread.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported 41 new COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals in the area, down from 42 the day before. The task force also reported a total of 232 virus patients across area BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital facilities — up from 226 the day before. Task force data lags two days.

Illinois reported 1,763 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, up from 1,700 the day before. The seven-day average of new cases rose to 1,639, up from 1,593 the day before, according to a Post-Dispatch analysis. The state also reported 41 more deaths because of the virus.

Annika Merrilees • 314-340-8528 @annie3mer on Twitter

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