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St. Louis County leader warns worst of virus surge coming

December 27, 2021 GMT

The number of new COVID-19 cases is rising sharply in Missouri’s largest county, and officials warn that case counts will almost certainly rise over the next couple of weeks as the omicron variant takes hold.

St. Louis County officials said Monday that the county of about 1 million residents averaged 619 new cases per day over the past seven days, which was 58% more than it averaged over the previous seven days.

“St. Louis County has experienced its biggest surge in COVID-19 cases in more than a year, with more than 1,000 new cases reported on Thursday,” Democratic County Executive Sam Page said at a news conference. “Not since November of 2020 have we seen such numbers.”

He also expressed concern about the high positivity rate, which means that many people are likely infected and don’t know it.

“Chances are high they’re in a public setting infecting others,” Page said.

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As of Friday, which was the last day for which data was posted, Missouri averaged about 3,000 new COVID-19 cases per day over the previous seven days, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Service’s COVID-19 dashboard. There were 15,478 new confirmed cases and another 5,064 probable cases from antigen testing over that period, when the state registered its highest count since August.

New data shows the highly contagious omicron variant is spreading quickly in Missouri.

Expanded testing done Dec. 20 found mutations associated with the variant in 32 of 57 wastewater samples collected statewide, said Jeff Wenzel, who oversees the wastewater surveillance program for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

By comparison, testing conducted the week before found the mutation in 15 of the 63 test locations.

The most recent tests identified the mutation at wastewater facilities in the St. Louis area, Kansas City area, St. Joseph, Columbia, Branson, Springfield, Cape Girardeau, Joplin, Nixa and others.

The state’s hospitals are struggling to keep up. In Springfield, CoxHealth CEO Steve Edwards wrote on Twitter that the number of COVID-19 patients has recently risen by about one-third, to 92. He urged everyone to get vaccinated and get booster shots.

“The best data we have indicates waning vaccine is about 30% effective, with booster over 70% effective,” Edwards wrote. “Please boost to protect our community and weary staff.”

Page said St. Louis County on Monday joined Jackson County in appealing a Cole County judge’s ruling in November that invalidated virus-fighting regulations imposed by state and local health departments. That decision, which sided with Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt, has led to school districts dropping mask mandates and counties lifting health restrictions.