South County again singled out as a hotspot for the coronavirus

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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

The St. Louis region saw its largest single-day spike in COVID-19 hospital admissions last week since the pandemic started, and once again, South County is being singled out by a task force of area hospitals as a coronavirus hotspot.

Dr. Alex Garza, the SSM Health chief medical officer who oversees the region’s response through the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, a collaboration of the four major hospital systems in St. Louis, once again identified South County and Jefferson County as the areas in the 15-county region with the highest number of new cases at his briefing Aug. 24, after originally identifying rising cases in South County Aug. 10. The trend continues.

In a setback, the St. Louis region saw its largest one-day spike in hospital admissions in data reported Aug. 26 that lags two days, although the trend fell back to what had been typical levels the next day. The four major hospital systems reported 71 new hospital admissions, up from 43 the day before. Before that, the seven-day moving average of hospitalizations had plateaued around the 40-a-day level for the last month, not improving but not getting worse, Garza said.

Daily admissions of 40 or above are the “red line” identified by hospitals above which they begin to have capacity issues handling coronavirus patients.

But even as most of the region levels out in cases, South County continues to add the most new cases of any area. This time, Garza singled out the 63123 ZIP code of Affton, along with Hillsboro and Festus in Jefferson County. Two weeks before, Garza said that the highest rates of transmission were in Oakville’s 63129 ZIP code along with Concord’s 63128, Sappington, Fenton and Arnold.

In two weeks, Affton went from 595 cases to 789 cases. Oakville went from 604 cases to 791 total cases. Concord added 182 more cases in two weeks and 80 new cases in the last week for the highest infection rate in South County according to tracking posted at St. Louis University.

The South County trend was “consistent with where we were two weeks ago where we were seeing a lot of cases down in the southern part of the metro area, so we continue to see those as well,” Garza said.

Fenton, which is in both St. Louis County and Jefferson County, remained a hotspot with 98 new cases in the last seven days.

Jefferson County, which does not have a mask mandate, is the only part of the region with a transmission rate higher than 1 — spreading quickly enough to increase over time.

Officials generally look at a seven-day moving average of daily data in order to prevent decisions being made on one-day spikes up or down, but the near-doubling of hospital admissions in one day was such a disturbing data point that Garza said it had to be considered.

“Our data for today, just to be blunt, is fairly alarming,” Garza said, adding, “It’s hard to ignore such a significant increase.”

Total hospitalizations jumped up 13 to 309 patients, the first time that the area has seen more than 300 patients since May 22.

Numbers had been plateauing

The good news in the numbers Garza presented Aug. 24 was that overall — except in South County — the region was not trending upward and was headed in the “right direction,” Garza said at the time.

But the bad news was that cases weren’t going down either, illustrated by the sharp one-day turnaround.

“We’re not interrupting transmission significantly but also cases are not going up significantly, so we’re also in this holding pattern now which is a little bit frustrating,” Garza said, urging mask use.