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ST. LOUIS – In just over two weeks, the St. Louis region has added 100 more COVID-19 patients to area hospital beds, surging from 459 COVID-positive patients on Dec. 6 to the 560 patients reported Tuesday afternoon.

The numbers, released by the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, are yet another indication that the winter surge in the region continues unabated as the medical community awaits the imminent surge of the omicron variant.

Medical experts predict a bleak outlook for the spread of the virus if preventative measures aren’t taken quickly.

Perhaps the best news contained in the latest hospital numbers released by the task force is that overnight there were 39 more patients released than admitted. In fact, the 99 patients discharged from task force hospitals is the highest single-day number since 100 people were sent home on Sept. 8. There were 60 patients admitted for COVID symptoms in that same time span.

Still, there’s very little room for optimism.

The task force reported that 129 patients remain in ICU beds – the same number as reported yesterday. Six more patients now find themselves on ventilators, with that number rising from 72 patients to 78 now requiring help to breathe.

For the fourth consecutive day, eight deaths were reported in task force hospitals, bringing the December death total to 155 people. With 28 patients now suspected of having COVID-19—and coupled with the 560 COVID-positive patients already receiving care—task force hospitals report 588 total hospitalizations. The last time so many people were hospitalized was Sept. 3.

By comparison, last winter—during the 2020 winter surge—the highest number of total hospitalizations recorded were 1,061 patients on Dec. 1, 2020. Less than six months ago—June 24—there were only 120 total hospitalizations recorded in the region. That’s a 390% increase in hospitalizations in the second half of this year. 

As COVID case numbers surge, so too is the number of individuals who want to know if they have the virus, with testing sites across the area quickly being booked.

On Tuesday, Doctors Clay Dunagan and Alex Garza released a video message via the task force Facebook page. In the message, the doctors again reminded area residents that the surge being experienced now is unmistakable and heading in the wrong direction.

“Really, as we talked about this, we worried that we’re headed towards this perfect storm,” Garza said.

Dunagan reminded the region that vaccinations and masks have proven effective in reducing the risk and transmission of the virus. Garza warned that without boosters, many more people may get sick. Garza also warned the area’s unvaccinated that now is the time to begin getting the shots, because immunity is built up over time and the omicron variant may be dominant in St. Louis soon. 

Garza said area hospitals already are full of COVID-19 patients and doctors may find it difficult to take care of other patients.

“Our workforce is really exhausted and they’re demoralized. It’s tough to see where we can pull in any kind of reserves to help out with the influx of patients,” he said. “We’re asking everyone—business owners, employers, individuals—to do whatever they can to decrease transmission of the virus and one of the best ways is to wear a mask in public.”

And while Dunagan said you don’t have to cancel holiday plans, you need to take precautions.

“If you’re intending to gather with people who are not high risk and who are all vaccinated, you should be able to gather safely, but we urge you anytime you’re in a gathering to consider the most vulnerable person that’s going to be attending,” he said.