Local COVID death surge continues

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Since the beginning of 2022, Monroe County has seen 13 new COVID-19 deaths.

On Tuesday, Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner reported a COVID-positive male in his 60s recently died, bringing the county’s death toll to 122. The day before, a male in his 50s died.

On Friday, Wagner reported the youngest COVID death within the past two weeks. The patient was a man in his 40s. Last week also saw two other deaths — one of a male in his 90s, one of a 70-year-old female in a congregate care faculty.

These new deaths come on the heels of six such deaths reported in Monroe County the previous week.

Wagner explained that this ever-expanding local death count during the Omicron surge is “because of the sheer number of people infected.” 

As Wagner has explained in the past, the health department does not know specifics of each incident classified as a “COVID death.” When COVID-19 is listed on a death certificate, the death is labeled a COVID death. This means COVID may not be considered the cause of death, but may have played a contributing role.

Based on what he has been hearing from community members, Wagner believes Monroe County’s active case count is starting to decline.

“We’re optimistic that we’re starting to hit the downward slope,” Wagner said.

Due to the strain this Omicron surge has put on health care systems, Wagner said hospitals are no longer calling health departments to report new hospitalizations. This means the number of Monroe County residents who are hospitalized is a mystery. In addition, Wagner said he has been hearing reports of local patients being transferred as far as Indiana to receive COVID care, as hospitals across the nation are reaching capacity. This makes it even harder to count the total number of Monroe Countians who are hospitalized.

In fact, Wagner said he has heard reports of local COVID patients being transferred as far as Indiana to receive care, as hospitals across the region do not have enough staffed beds to house all those in need. 

St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force data can provide insight on the state of area hospitals. 

As of Tuesday, 876 COVID-positive patients were hospitalized within BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital systems. 

Tuesday’s ICU census of COVID-positive patients was 151, with 86 requiring ventilators. 

At approximately this time last week, over 300 more COVID-positive patients were hospitalized and roughly 40 more were in the ICU.

“We’re finally starting to see some good progress in our fight against Omicron,” task force co-leader and SSM Health Chief Community Health Officer Dr. Alex Garza said in Tuesday’s press briefing. “The hospitalization totals continue to bounce around a little bit, but in general they are trending down and that’s really encouraging.”

There were 11 children ages 11 and under hospitalized in the St. Louis region on Tuesday, with four being in the ICU. For teenagers ages 12-18, 13 were hospitalized with one being in the ICU.

Task force co-leader and BJC Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Clay Dunagan said during last week’s press briefing that models are projecting a continued decrease in COVID patients. While this is a welcome sign, it does not mean hospitals will see immediate relief. 

“With such a large number of people in our hospitals and continued large number of COVID admissions and other medical problems, it’s going to take us awhile to decompress the health care system to pre-pandemic levels … and that means we’re going to be under tremendous strain as we both take care of COVID and we try to deal with the other health care issues in the community,” Dunagan said. 

Of those hospitalized in the St. Louis area Tuesday, 59 percent were unvaccinated. Dunagan noted during last week’s press briefing that of those who are hospitalized and vaccinated, only about 15 percent have been boosted. These patients likely are older and have medical conditions that lessen their immune responses, he said. 

On Tuesday, the task force saw 18 new daily deaths, and while this is lower than the seven-day moving average seen earlier in the surge, Dunagan said this doesn’t mean this surge is not serious. 

“We’re continuing to see high numbers of deaths even though we talk about this variant as being not as deadly as other ones,” Dunagan said. “It’s simply a law of large numbers: if you get so many people infected, there are plenty of vulnerable people in that population who are going to get terribly ill and die.” 

In Tuesday’s briefing, Dunagan also recounted some recent CDC findings on vaccine effectiveness. 

“Those datas show that if you’re an unvaccinated adult, you had a 16 times higher risk of being hospitalized due to COVID. If you were unvaccinated and 65 or older, your risk of being hospitalized was about 50 times (higher) than someone who had been fully vaccinated and boosted,” Dunagan said, noting this study saw both the Delta and Omicron variants. 

As far as research on the current surge, Dunagan explained that data showed those who have been boosted have an 80 percent effectiveness rate at preventing urgent care visits and a 90 percent effectiveness rate at reducing hospitalizations. 

Illinois Department of Public Health data from Tuesday showed 59.90 percent (22,626) of the county’s eligible population has been fully vaccinated and the county has seen 10,112 booster doses be administered.n has been fully vaccinated and 10,100 booster doses have been administered. 

For now, a person is considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after completion of the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer series, or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Even though Wednesday’s vaccine clinic at the Monroe County Health Department has been canceled, the local health department is hosting a Pfizer (12+) and Moderna (18+) clinic for individuals on Tuesday, Feb. 8 from 8:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. by appointment only. A similar clinic will be on Thursday, Feb. 10, with appointments available from 8:15 – 11:30 a.m. and 1:15 – 4 p.m. Call or text 618-612-6404 or 618-340-4819 to make an appointment.

Perhaps in an effort to encourage vaccination among public school and university employees, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker vetoed a bill Monday that would have provided paid administrative leave for such employees who are absent due to COVID-19, instead proposing it be applicable to only fully vaccinated employees. 

As Capitol News Illinois reported, these individuals or their children must have tested positive for COVID or they are being excluded as a close contact in order for paid administrative leave to be given. 

Pritzker’s new initiative has yet to see legislative approval. 

Come early February, nearly 400 million free adult N95 masks will be available at pharmacies and community health centers. 

Many experts have verified these masks provide the highest level of protection compared to other masks on the market. 

Americans can also now receive four free at-home COVID rapid tests per household at covidtests.gov

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