COVID deaths mount locally, but cases decline

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As of Tuesday, Monroe County has recorded 127 COVID-related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Since last Tuesday, Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner learned of five additional COVID-related deaths. 

The first, reported late last week, was of a female in her 70s. Wagner said she had been hospitalized and required a ventilator. 

On Tuesday, Wagner said he had learned of four more deaths since his last report. Two females in long-term care had recently died, along with a male in his 60s and a male in his 70s.

Unlike previous surges marked by the Delta variant, this current Omicron surge is seeing patients die within a few days of being hospitalized. Wagner said he noticed those who died from COVID during periods where Delta was rampant would be in the hospital for “two weeks minimum” before succumbing to the disease. 

“I think a lot of it is people are waiting until the very end (to go to the hospital), or not going at all,” Wagner explained, adding that the treatments available decrease the longer one waits.

While he still is not reporting state-compiled active case counts, as he said the State Contact Tracing Surge Center is behind in entering and contact tracing, Wagner said he is confident Monroe County has reached its surge peak. 

“From everything we’re seeing, even the state numbers, we’re declining in cases,” Wagner said. 

Wagner noted local schools are seeing less staff being out sick with COVID, the health department is receiving fewer calls asking for isolation guidance and other indicators have influenced his projections that the number of in-county cases will continue to decline. 

On Wednesday, Wagner said the inclement weather could further accelerate this decline.

“This is basically going to be a mandatory two-day isolation period due to the weather,” Wagner said.

The number of COVID-positive hospitalizations in the St. Louis region has been decreasing as well, the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force said, although hospitals are still “very full,” task force co-leader Dr. Alex Garza said Tuesday. 

Task force data is compiled based on the BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital systems in the St. Louis area.

On Friday, the task force reported 796 COVID-positive individuals were hospitalized and 153 COVID-positive individuals were in the ICU. 

Of these ICU patients, 110 required ventilators. 

Also on Friday, 18 pediatric patients ages 11 and under were hospitalized, with five in the ICU. Eleven children ages 12-18 were hospitalized, none of which were in the ICU.

On Monday, the hospitals saw over 900 COVID-positive patients.

“A thousand patients in our hospitals is still huge and it creates a lot of work for the health care systems and we’re not able to offer all of the other health care that we would optimally be able to provide for all of our patients, so we still need to relieve the health care systems and give a break to our health care professionals,” Garza said during Tuesday’s press briefing. 

Of those hospitalized on Friday, task force data shows 58 percent were unvaccinated. 

Wagner equated the vaccine to a “death preventative” in a recent county board meeting, stating the vaccine may not necessarily prevent individuals from getting sick in the first place but will prevent serious illness or death. 

He noted of Monroe County residents who recently died of COVID, the majority were unvaccinated. Of those who were vaccinated and still died, they had underlying medical conditions or other risk factors such as being elderly. 

On Monday, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine received full FDA approval. It joined Pfizer’s adult COVID-19 vaccine, which was given full FDA approval in August, in this status. 

Pfizer has also requested to use its vaccine in kids ages 6 months to 5 years. 

Illinois Department of Public Health data from Tuesday showed 59.87 percent (20,557 residents) of Monroe County’s eligible population has been fully vaccinated (two doses of Moderna or Pfizer, or one shot of Johnson & Johnson) and the county has seen 10,233 booster doses be administered. 

The local health department is hosting a Pfizer (ages 12+) and Moderna (ages 18+) clinic for individuals Tuesday, Feb. 8, from 8:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. by appointment only. 

A similar clinic takes place Thursday, Feb. 10, with appointments available from 8:15-11:30 a.m. and 1:15-4 p.m. 

On Wed, Feb. 9, they will host a pediatric Pfizer drive-up clinic (ages 5-11) with appointments running from 2-4 p.m.

Call or text 618-612-6404 or 618-340-4819 to make an appointment.

The latest task force briefing also discussed the new BA.2 subvariant. It is considered a COVID subvariant because it is a mutation from the commonly seen Omicron variant, task force co-leader Dr. Clay Dunagan explained. 

So far, the variant has cropped up in Asia, Africa and Europe. 

“In most ways it seems to be similar to Omicron,” Dunagan said. “It is, however, appearing to be a bit more transmissible and in some countries it’s starting to replace the original Omicron variant as the largest variant. That said, it’s also not causing huge surges in most countries but it may delay the coming off our current surge, so we may see rates bump up a little bit as it starts to spread in the U.S.” 

He continued to explain that it does not seem BA.2 causes more severe illness than Omicron, and it seems receptive to vaccine immunity. 

Dunagan later touched on a masking study that followed over 6,000 childcare workers across the country. 

“It was found that masking significantly reduced the number of times those childcare programs needed to be closed. I think it shows pretty conclusively that masking is associated with fewer child program closures and more in-person education,” Dunagan said. “I know all of us want to keep our kids in settings where they can learn, and masks have proven time and time again that they’ll help us do that during the pandemic. We know there’s a lot of counter-information circulating about masks not working, and those really aren’t based on very firm science. The vast majority of really well-done studies are continuing to show that masks do help even in these settings.” 

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