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ST. LOUIS – The greater St. Louis area is experiencing an increase in COVID-19 infections and doctors anticipate a rise in hospitalizations to go along with it.

While the region is not under a similar threat as the winter omicron surge, the virus has spread across St. Louis at a rate five times higher than just six weeks ago.

Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said cases are up about 50% from two weeks ago and hospitalizations are up around 30% over the same period.

The task force is made up of hospitals run by the SSM, BJC, Mercy, and St. Luke’s Hospital systems. The numbers now also include hospitalizations reported by the St Louis VA Hospital. 

There’s a concern we’re undercounting the number of COVID cases in the area, Garza said, because people either aren’t testing or aren’t reporting that they’re positive.

“But to be clear, we’re still in a much better place with the virus than we’ve been at times in the past,” he said.

And while medical professionals are seeing an increase in positive cases, they haven’t seen a similar increase in hospitalization. Garza said it’s likely because people are not suffering severe illness.

Dr. Clay Dunagan, the co-leader of the task force, said the virus’ reproduction factor (R0 or “R naught”) is currently at 1.23. Anytime it’s greater than 1.0, it means the number of cases in the region is expanding. A more simple way of thinking about the current reproduction factor is if there are five infected individuals, they will likely spread it to six people.

“And that way we are in this exponential spread, and numbers will continue, and that’s really why we are concerned about that,” said Dunagan.

The COVID positivity rate in the St. Louis area is presently 15.8% Task force hospitals report rolling 7-day averages of 32 for hospital admissions, 124 for hospitalizations, and no deaths over the last seven days.

Garza said the area is unlikely to return to mandated public health measures, meaning the onus will be on individuals to mitigate their risk.

“While transmission in the community is elevated now, we are not seeing signs that the hospitalization rate is going to increase substantially, probably because most people are not suffering serious illness,” said Garza.

The doctors again recommended all eligible individuals get vaccinated or boosted. People should also wear a mask in high-risk situations when appropriate, like large gatherings or indoors, especially if you or someone you know is at risk for the virus.

And in the event you are sick, Dunagan and Garza recommend you stay home. You may have COVID, the flu, or another respiratory illness. But without testing, you won’t know for sure if it’s COVID. If your symptoms are out of the ordinary, please get tested. If you do test positive, you should stay out of circulation and speak with your doctor about anti-viral therapies; they can lessen your symptoms and reduce the duration.