COVID-19 cases continue to rise in every South County ZIP code; task force singles it out as pandemic hotspot

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The slide shown by the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force last week that singled out South County as a coronavirus hotspot.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

Coronavirus cases have continued to rise in South County in the week since it was singled out as a virus hotspot in the St. Louis metropolitan region, even as cases began to decline in other areas.

Reporting data on case counts and hospital admissions from the four major hospital systems that make up the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, Dr. Alex Garza, the SSM Health CEO who commands the task force, applauded a seeming downturn in those numbers in most places in the region, but said at his Aug. 10 briefing that the St. Louis region’s “red zone” had switched from St. Charles County to South County.

He specifically singled out Oakville, Sappington, Fenton and Arnold as notable areas of high transmission since the beginning of August, while other areas outside of South County started to decline.

The gold standard in establishing trends in the coronavirus, the seven-day rolling average of hospital admissions, had gone down for several days in St. Louis for the first time in more than a month, an achievement celebrated by Garza — although that overall number started to trend upward again near the end of the week.

Dr. Alex Garza appears at the first and so far only meeting of the St. Louis city-county Board of Freeholders at St. Louis City Hall in 2019. Garza was appointed to the board by County Executive Sam Page. Photo by Erin Achenbach.

But the “promising trends in our regional data” as of Aug. 10, including the modeling the pandemic task force has been working on, “gives us a little bit of hope that we’re starting to turn the tide” in COVID-19 cases, Garza said. He attributed the lower numbers to the mask mandates in St. Louis County and St. Louis city, which went into effect in early July, and called it a “good sign that we’re starting to flatten that curve” on the pandemic.

“We’re not seeing a huge drop, but we are starting to see it turn,” Garza said, although he cautioned that “there’s so much virus circulating right now that it’s going to take a little bit of time before you really start seeing significant drops.”

But in data separated by ZIP code, South County stood out — and not in a good way, Garza said.

“You’ve seen us in weeks before where it was out in St. Charles County and Chesterfield, and now the numbers seem to be increasing down in South County,” Garza said. “I’ll point out a couple of areas here where we’ve seen some increase — Arnold, Sappington and Oakville is where we saw the increase in numbers week over week.”

He specifically cited Oakville’s ZIP code 63129, the Concord ZIP code of 63128 and the Arnold ZIP code of 63010 as trending sharply in the wrong direction. He also said that Fenton had seen a rise of 102 new cases the week before.

Mehlville School District Superintendent Chris Gaines had cited the rising cases in South County — a trend he had tracked since the beginning of July, mirroring the overall rising trend in the county — as a reason for the district to start all its classes online. Mehlville is the school district for Oakville’s 63129 ZIP code and shares the 63128 ZIP code with Lindbergh Schools.

“When looking at the ZIP codes of 63125, 63128 and 63129, the rolling 14-day sum rose steadily throughout the month of July. The first 15 days of July saw 139 new cases in these three ZIP codes. The last 15 days of July saw 408 new cases in these three ZIP codes,” said Gaines at the Aug. 5 meeting where the Board of Education voted to go all-virtual. “In community engagement last fall we repeatedly heard that safety is important to our community. … Indications show that the level of transmission will rise or remain high for several more weeks.”

The pandemic task force is not holding briefings this week, but the trend of COVID-19 cases has continued to rise in South County in the week since Garza singled it out as a hotspot.

Overall, new data released Monday by the task force was promising: New hospital admissions decreased to 32 from 38 Sunday, and the seven-day rolling average of hospital admissions decreased to 40 from 41. The pandemic task force marks a “red line” at 40 hospital admissions and wants to keep numbers below that line. Daily numbers had fallen below 40 for five days last week, but then spiked up to 50. The seven-day moving average of hospitalizations decreased from 274 to 273.

But data on a COVID-19 tracking website at St. Louis University’s website shows that cases have continued to rise in South County over the last week, with the rate of cases per 1,000 residents going up in every South County ZIP code.

The day after Garza mentioned the rise in South County, the ZIP code-level data showed that Oakville had 604 total cases, for a rate of 11.25 cases per 1,000. In data from Sunday — five days later — Oakville had gone up by 76 cases to 680 total cases, now standing at a rate of 12.67 cases per 1,000.

The Concord ZIP code of 63128 had 321 cumulative cases at the time of the briefing, for a rate of 10.76 cases per 1,000.  In the last week, Concord has seen 55 more cases for a new rate per 1,000 of 12.61.

Affton’s 63123 ZIP code, which was not singled out by Garza, has risen from the 595 cases reported Aug. 11 to 681 cases, now leading South County for largest total number of cases. The rate per 1,000 in Affton has risen to 13.32, the highest in South County, from 11.64 as of last week.

The 63125 ZIP code in Lemay had 381 cases as of Aug. 11, for a rate per 1,000 of 11.63. That has gone up in the last five days to 427 cases and a rate per 1,000 of 11.46.

The 63126 ZIP code of Crestwood and Sappington had 130 cases last week and now has 155 cases. The rate per 1,000 has gone up from 8.8 to 10.49 as of Sunday’s numbers.

Sunset Hills, the 63127 ZIP code, has the fewest total cases of any South County ZIP code with 38 total cases as of Aug. 11, for a rate-per-1,000 of 7.62. But its total cases went up to 48 in the last five days, with its rate-per-1,000 heading to 9.63.

The best way to prevent COVID-19 transmission is to avoid large gatherings, wear a mask, wash your hands and stay at least 6 feet apart from people outside your household, Garza emphasized at all his briefings last week.