County sees coronavirus cases rise, especially for people in 20s

St.+Louis+County+Executive+Sam+Page+helps+pack+food+into+a+trunk+in+May+while+handing+out+meals+at+the+Weber+Road+Library+in+Affton+with+the+St.+Louis+County+Library+and+Operation+Food+Search%27s+drive-thru+meals+program.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page helps pack food into a trunk in May while handing out meals at the Weber Road Library in Affton with the St. Louis County Library and Operation Food Search's drive-thru meals program.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

St. Louis County and Missouri have seen a spike in coronavirus cases, matching the peaks of months ago and mirroring the rising number of cases across the country.

To combat the infection rate, County Executive Sam Page instituted a mask mandate as of July 3. The order to wear masks in public spaces and indoors when you can’t socially distance will likely remain in effect until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available.

But with businesses reopening after stay-at-home orders and people venturing out for youth sports and gatherings for Memorial Day and the 4th of July, cases are rising in St. Louis County at an alarming rate, especially among people in their 20s, Page said. Depending on how that trend goes, restrictions might be put back in place that had been lifted: “We’d like to continue our slow, steady reopening, but of course nothing will ever be normal until we have a vaccine,” Page said, adding, “Wishful thinking won’t make it go away, but responsible actions will.”

The county reached its second-highest ever daily total of positive cases July 14 when 243 people tested positive, the county executive said. Between June 21 and July 4, the number of positive tests increased 94 percent and 195 percent among people in their 20s — although deaths decreased 85 percent since the new cases primarily affected younger people and hospitals have improved outcomes. The number of deaths at nursing homes dropped to 36 in June from 144 in May.

“We don’t want to go back to where we were in April and May, and we have to turn those numbers around,” said Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force comprised of most area hospital systems.

In response, the county Department of Public Health created a seven-point COVID-19 alert system that shows red, green or yellow for the virus based on seven factors, including cases, deaths, hospitalizations and hospital bed capacity. A 10-percent change in either direction will merit a red or green symbol on the system.

Page gave three reasons for the increased number of positive tests: People are more “out and about” as stay-at-home orders ended; and testing is more widely available, with the county testing 1,800 people

a day through the South County Health Center and its North County equivalent. Finally, as the demand for tests rises, private labs get behind on tests and deliver a batch all at one time.

Youth sports are the “primary source” of outbreaks right now, Page said. The county revised guidelines on contact sports that allowed outdoor athletics.

But Page also warned about non-socially distanced gatherings of young people, including one who unknowingly carried the virus and infected 15 of his friends and family members over two weeks as they

met and didn’t socially distance. Another 12-case outbreak, at a manufacturer that was practicing strict protocols on the factory floor, was traced to a break room where workers from two states were taking lunch at the same time and not socially distancing or wearing masks.

It’s a good example of why even months into the pandemic, caution still needs to be taken and the same actions taken to prevent infection — wearing a mask when you can’t stay more than 6 feet away from someone, washing hands, not touching your face and disinfecting hard surfaces.