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Vaccine hesitancy, variants stand in way of return to 'normal,' St. Louis task force says

Despite the increase in vaccination supply, the task force is seeing an increase in coronavirus cases in area hospitals
Credit: UPI
Dr. Alex Garza, Chief of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, listens as other doctors speak, during his daily update on the fight against the coronavirus in Earth City, Missouri on Friday, November 13, 2020. Garza warns that if quick action is not taken now, the area hospitals will run out of beds and health care workers. On November 12, 2020, the State of Missouri set a one day record of over 4000 people coming down with the virus, as positivity rates continue to rise. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

ST. LOUIS — After more than one year into the pandemic, the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force stressed that increasing vaccination rates and continuing precautions, such as mask-wearing and hand-washing, are key to returning to "normal."

In the St. Louis area, vaccinators have administered a total of 1.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, according to Dr. Alex Garza, the incident commander of the task force. About 763,000 initial doses have been administered and about 504,000 two-dose series have been completed. Garza said the figures are "conservative," citing a delay in reporting the data.

And despite the increase in vaccination supply, the task force is seeing an increase in coronavirus cases in area hospitals. 

"Even as the vaccine continues to roll out across the region, there are a few key challenges standing in the way of really declaring victory in the war against COVID," Garza said during a press conference Friday morning.

Garza said the presence of COVID-19 "powerful" variants circulating in the area is especially concerning.

"Those variants are more easily spread and they can make people more sick as well," Garza said.

Vaccine hesitancy is another barrier, Garza said, citing a poll from the Missouri Hospital Association that found less than half of Missourians who are not already vaccinated do not plan to.

"If that bears out, It's going to take us a while to reach that herd immunity and the virus will continue to spread and we'll be dealing with this pandemic for a long time in the future," Garza said.

It is too soon to forgo public safety measures that have been put in place, such as wearing a mask and hand washing, he warned.  

Watch the task force's full press conference in the video player below.

On Friday, the task force released the following data from the four major health systems (BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health, St. Luke’s Hospital):

  • New hospital admissions (data lagged two days) decreased from 47 yesterday to 38 today.
  • The seven-day moving average of hospital admissions (data lagged two days) decreased from 41 yesterday to 40 today.
  • The seven-day moving average of hospitalizations increased – from 211 yesterday to 212 today.
  • Inpatient confirmed COVID positive hospitalizations decreased – from 227 yesterday to 220 today.
  • Inpatient suspected COVID positive hospitalizations decreased – from 27 yesterday to 22 today.
  • The number of confirmed COVID positive patients in the ICUs increased – from 55 yesterday to 56 today.
  • The number of confirmed COVID positive patients on ventilators increased – from 30 yesterday to 33 today.
  • The number of COVID deaths increased – from 1 yesterday to 4 today.
  • The seven-day moving average of COVID deaths remains the same at 3 today.
  • Across the system hospitals, 41 patients have been discharged, bringing the cumulative number of COVID-19 patients discharged to 21,394.
  • Staffed bed hospital capacity is at 81%, an average across task force hospitals. The ICUs are at 82% of their total staffed bed capacity.

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