Health leaders show COVID optimism

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Reports given by the Monroe County Health Department and St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force took an encouraging tone this week. 

“There’s a much lower case rate across the region. Of course we know there’s some decrease in the amount of cases that are being (reported) with home testing, but overall there’s no denying that we’ve had a dramatic reduction in cases,” said Dr. Clay Dunagan, task force co-leader, in a Tuesday press briefing.

Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner said something can be deduced by less testing. 

“Across Monroe County and across the state we’re seeing less testing, which is indicative of less illness,” Wagner said. 

At the height of the Omicron surge, task force hospitals – which include those in the BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital systems – saw roughly 1,400 COVID-positive patients. As of Friday, this figure was 201, with 37 ICU patients. Of those in the ICU, over half are using ventilators.

A total of two individuals 18 and under were in the ICU, and nine were hospitalized.

And Dunagan expects these figures to continue to decline. 

“We’re not seeing nearly as many hospitalizations as we once did,” Dunagan said. 

Dunagan addressed questions about COVID becoming “endemic.” 

“There is a debate about whether COVID will ever truly become an endemic illness. That is something we see pretty much all the time in low numbers, or whether we’ll have a period where we see smaller surges, something more like influenza,” he said. “Whether we’re there or not yet really is something that we’ll be only able to tell in retrospect, but what we do know is that right now case rates are extremely low, the disease is starting to wane, and there is a good suggestion that we’re in for a better period at least in the near future.” 

The best way to prevent hospitalization is to be vaccinated, he said. 

“About two-thirds of those breakthrough cases are in individuals who are older or who have diseases that compromise their immune system, so we still believe that vaccinations are incredibly protective against hospitalization and severe disease,” Dunagan said. “If you look at the patients who are unvaccinated, while many of them also have risk factors, many of them don’t and that’s a real tragedy because they essentially have a preventable hospitalization for the most part.” 

The task force said Friday that 63 percent of COVID-positive patients in hospitals are unvaccinated. 

According to Illinois Department of Public Health data, 60.70 percent of Monroe County’s eligible population was fully vaccinated (two shots of Moderna or Pfizer, or one shot of J&J) as of Friday. 10,572 boosters had been administered. 

Beginning Tuesday, March 8, the Monroe County Health Department will be hosting adult vaccine clinics (Pfizer for ages 12 and up, Moderna for 18 and older) on Tuesdays and Thursdays In March from 9 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. and Fridays in March from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Clinics will run from 1 – 3:45 p.m. on Mondays in March beginning Monday, March 14. 

Kids ages 5-11 can be vaccinated on Monday, March 7 from 1-3:45 p.m. and Wednesdays March 9, 23 and 30 from 2-4 p.m.. 

All clinics will be at the health department office, 1315 Jamie Lane, Waterloo. Appointments are recommended, not required, and can be made by calling or texting 618-612-6695.

On Wednesday, the task force posted that the data from March 1, reflected in this week’s print edition, was “incomplete.” It is not clear how this impacted the data published.

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