ST. LOUIS – With Missouri’s recent COVID surge showing no sign of abating, the interim chief of the St. Louis region’s COVID task force is urging everyone to wear masks again. The call to action comes as cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 begins to surge in the St. Louis region.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said a new mask order was certainly on the table again but they stopped short of a mandate. Instead, they urged everyone to wear masks and social distance and those who are unvaccinated to get their shots.
According to the task force, seven people in the St. Louis region died from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours and 49 new hospital admissions, the most since April. Ninety-one people were also admitted to ICUs in the same time span. Nearly all of these individuals were not vaccinated.
St. Louis County is reporting an average of 170 new COVID cases per day, up 34% over last week. St. Louis City is reporting a 38% increase in cases over the same period. The city and county issued a joint public health advisory on July 1 recommending residents wear masks indoors, whether they’ve been vaccinated or not.
“When we first initiated masking and social distancing guidelines, the goal was to wear masks for protection until a vaccine was available,” said Dr. Clay Dunagan said, acting head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.
The doctor called the region’s latest COVID infection statistics “alarming.”
“The vaccine is available, but unfortunately the vaccination rate in our community has not been high enough to prevent spread of the Delta variant,” he said. “We now need to return to masking to combat this new wave of infections.”
Public places include all places where you can’t be sure of the vaccination status of those around you, according to Dr. Dunagan. That means restaurants, shopping centers, schools, churches, plus Cardinals games at Busch Stadium, Dunagan said, even though the games are outdoors.
Dunagan said we have two ways to fight the spread of COVID: vaccinations and wearing a face mask.
And while being vaccinated offers protection against COVID-19 symptoms and hospitalization, it isn’t a cure. A vaccinated person can still catch the virus and inadvertently pass COVID onto others.
“This is about personal choice and we’re urging our community to choose to protect one another,” says Dunagan. “Maybe you won’t personally get sick, and maybe your children won’t either, but you can still transmit the disease to others and continue the spread.”
Medical experts say at least 70% to 80% of people need immunity to minimize spread within the general population. The safest way to be immunized is through vaccination.
Dunagan admits asking people who are vaccinated to mask up again seems unfair, considering the CDC has previously said vaccinated individuals can remove their masks. Unfortunately, Missouri’s low vaccination rate and the rapidly spreading Delta variant mean the community must adapt.
“The safest thing for our community and the most effective way to get back on track is to wear masks – and get vaccinated!” he said.
There was a noticeable jump in people wearing masks at shopping centers like the Brentwood Promenade on Tuesday.
“I think that if we’re smart, we can keep with many of the activities that we’re enjoying,” Dunagan said. “The challenge is that we need to wear a mask now while things aren’t hectic to avoid that real meltdown in the future.”
Meanwhile, Page and Jones said though they were not announcing a new mask mandate yet, it was certainly a topic of conversation and that they were actively studying further steps to rein in the Delta variant in the St. Louis region.
You can read a joint statement from both St. Louis City and County below:
St. Louis County continues to experience sharp increases in the average number of new cases per day, currently at 170. That is 34 percent higher than just one week ago. St. Louis City has seen an increase in new cases across all ZIP codes, 38 percent higher than a week ago, with African-Americans making up 80% of new reported cases since May. Additionally, we have seen our regional positivity rate grow to around 10 percent, and we are aware that the “hot spot” in southwest Missouri is moving northeast toward our region. We are very concerned with these numbers and are actively studying further steps.
On July 1, the City and County issued a public health advisory on mask wearing; a second advisory was issued July 12. Our departments encourage everyone to follow the advice from our public health experts. The advisories and other information can be found at stlcorona.com and stlouis-mo.gov. Regional health departments are absolutely in support of universal mask wearing by vaccinated and unvaccinated residents, particularly indoors. We believe it is critical for everyone’s safety.
Our region is watching national news and trends very carefully and have paid attention to the mask mandates that have been initiated by other local jurisdictions. While we do not have an announcement to make today, this is a topic of conversation. For the moment, we will continue to urge everyone to wear masks, even if you are vaccinated.
Vaccination remains the best protection against COVID-19, and the City and County urge you to get vaccinated immediately if you have not done so, and have your family members 12 and older do the same. Finally, anyone with any symptoms of COVID-19 – including headache, sore throat, fever, coughing and other flu-like symptoms – should seek immediate testing. Anyone who tests positive must isolate, and those who have had recent contact with that individual must quarantine.