Page says ‘tidal wave’ coming for those who aren’t vaccinated

A+nurse+at+Mercy+Hospital+South+prepares+the+first+dose+of+Pfizer%2FBioNTech%27s+COVID-19+vaccine+for+Mercy%27s+Chief+Medical+officer+Aamina+Akhtar+Monday%2C+Dec.+14.+Mercy+South+planned+to+vaccinate+20+workers+Dec.+14+and+another+20+staffers+Dec.+15.

Photo by Erin Achenbach

A nurse at Mercy Hospital South prepares the first dose of Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for Mercy’s Chief Medical officer Aamina Akhtar Monday, Dec. 14. Mercy South planned to vaccinate 20 workers Dec. 14 and another 20 staffers Dec. 15.

By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

Rates of new COVID-19 infections are rising in St. Louis County, and County Executive Sam Page issued a warning to those who have not been vaccinated: “a tidal wave is coming.” 

At a media brief Monday, Page said rates of new COVID-19 infections in St. Louis County are up 63-percent over the last week, with rates of new infections higher among population groups with low vaccination rates. 

“I wish I could stand here today with more encouraging news, but the numbers are too startling to ignore. The rate of new COVID infections is rising quickly,” said Page. 

North County has a rate of infection of 18 per 100,000 people, three times greater than St. Louis County’s central suburbs. Countywide, the rate of infection among Black St. Louis County residents is five times greater than white residents and the rate of infection among residents in their teens, 20s and 30s is up to five times the rate of those in their 70s or older. 

“The tidal wave is coming toward our unvaccinated population. This variant is spreading quickly and this variant has the ability to devastate those in its wake. That’s why it’s so critical to get vaccinated now,” said Page. “Last year, when COVID-19 was spreading quickly, we knew little about the virus and we had no vaccine. This year, we have an effective vaccine on hand that can prevent serious illness and death and help us avoid the dark moments we experienced during most of 2020.” 

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health is expected to release a public health advisory later Monday urging anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms to get tested for COVID-19. 

The symptoms associated with the Delta variant -headache, runny nose and sore throat- differ slightly from those of the Alpha variant, which is loss of taste and/or smell, fever, and cough. 

“If you’re experiencing any symptoms at all, please get tested. Even if you’ve been vaccinated,” said Page. “Do not assume these symptoms could be a summer allergy.” 

At this time, the county does not expect to instate a mask mandate or any new restrictions on businesses despite the rise in cases. Page said the county will continue to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, county Department of Public Health and other public health experts. 

Page encouraged individuals to continue masking up in indoor spaces, even if they have been vaccinated, if they aren’t sure of the vaccination status of others around them. 

“Wear a mask when you’re indoors with people whose vaccination status is unclear. Breakthrough cases are rare but they do happen,” said Page. “If someone has been vaccinated and gets COVID anyways, they might not realize it. So help stop the spread of COVID by wearing a mask when you’re in indoor crowds.”

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, which held what had been called its “last live briefing,” three weeks ago, held another briefing last Friday as hospitalizations rates continue to creep up in the county. 

“We said at the time (of the last briefing) that the pandemic was not over but it was entering a new phase. And we were entering a new phase where we had new control thanks to the effectiveness of the vaccines,” said Dr. Alex Garza, who led the pandemic task force for much of the last year and a half. “Today I’m disappointed to tell you once again that we’re losing ground to the virus. For the first time in weeks the number of people in this region who are hospitalized with COVID is increasing at a rapid pace. … Quite frankly, the number of people protecting themselves and the community by being vaccinated is just not keeping pace with this deadly disease.” 

“As a region, we’re moving in the wrong direction again. The virus is winning this round because the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID has established a foothold,” added Garza. 

Data released from the task force Monday show daily hospitalizations rates for COVID is 29 and the seven-day moving average of new hospitalizations is 37. 

“While the rates of the new COVID-related hospital admissions are rising in our region, they remain relatively low for now. But we expect that to change over the coming weeks, based on our own experience and the experience of those in southwest Missouri, where hospitals are seeing record levels of admissions for any time during this pandemic,” said Page. “In St. Louis County we will not see the full impact of this wave … for quite some time. … This variant is spreading quickly and this variant has the ability to devastate those in its wake.” 

The county has been monitoring the presence of the virus in watersheds and sewer system for several months, and have noticed an uptick in the Delta variant in the sewershed that is increasing rapidly. 

“We know the Delta variant is sweeping the country. We know the symptoms are a little bit different and that’s what we’re seeing right here in St. Louis County. It’s much more contagious and spreads much more quickly than the previous versions of COVID,” Page said. “That’s why it’s so critical to get vaccinated now. The vaccines are safe, effective and free.”