ST. LOUIS – Sobering news Wednesday from the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force as it reports the latest COVID-19 data and continues to track what is clearly a winter surge.
Throughout the pandemic, the task force has cautioned the region that the daily average of hospital admissions needed to remain at 40 patients or lower in order for hospital systems in St. Louis to comfortably treat those in need.
Two weeks ago, the region sat at that comfortable number of 40 patients per day. As of Wednesday, it sits at an average of 60 patients per day. That is a 50% increase in daily admissions in just two weeks and is concerning to the medical community.
“If we don’t take the same precautions this year, we could easily see a repeat of what happened last year and that would be devastating to our hospital systems and our medical systems as well as our community,” said Dr. Echols, the commissioner for the City of St. Louis Department of Health.
Additionally, over the last two days, our region has pushed back over the 500-patient mark for total hospitalizations. That means the combination of COVID-positive patients and suspected COVID patients has forced more than 500 people into hospital beds in our region. That hasn’t happened since mid-September. In fact, we had just pushed over the 400-patient mark just 10 days ago. In those days, the average number of hospitalizations has risen by 100 patients, going from 340 on Nov. 30 to 440 today. And for the first time in two months, ICU beds have now pushed over 100 patients. Just a month ago, ICU beds were occupied by only 53 patients. That’s an 89% increase in ICU patients in less than a month.
Echols said these numbers are bothersome during the busiest travel time of the year as we brace for a potential Winter Surge.
“With the emergence of new variants such as the omicron variant, it’s likely that any newer strains that are detected may be more virulent, as well as it may spread more effectively in our community,” he said.
While the evidence is purely anecdotal, the task force noted as the winter surge has taken hold in our region, they’ve noticed that the percentage of vaccinated patients in the hospital census has dwindled. Simply put: as the region has seen an escalation of cases and hospitalizations, it’s also noticed the winter surge is hitting the unvaccinated the hardest.
As of Wednesday, Dec. 8, only 98 patients of the 453 hospitalized COVID patients are vaccinated. That is only 22% of the hospital population, and one of the lowest percentages we’ve seen in two months. The task force also reports to FOX 2 News that this winter surge has prompted an influx of people coming in to get COVID booster shots.
Hospitals in our region have noticed a strong uptick in appointments in the last week. The task force said it’s working to determine how many of the vaccinated patients in the hospital currently have also received the booster. If many haven’t received that booster shot, doctors feel the current St. Louis COVID snapshot might offer further incentive for folks to get the added shot.
Exactly one year ago, the region was in the midst of its previous winter surge, with total hospitalizations above 1,000 patients. They believe while this year’s patient numbers are lower, we are still seeing the steady rise we saw a year ago. Vaccinations, they say, could be the biggest reason the numbers aren’t as high thus far. They cautioned that these numbers continue to rise and there’s no indication that a plateau is in sight.
The graph below shows the total hospitalizations in our region since Dec. 8, 2020. The graph clearly shows the decline of last winter’s surge, the 2021 delta surge and fall, and now the escalation of the current winter surge.