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ST. LOUIS – Leaders of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force say it’s still too soon to know if we’re on the other side of this latest COVID surge.

Dr. Clay Dunagan, co-leader of the task force, said it looks like new cases are leveling off or slowing down. But if that is the case, Dunagan cautions there’s still a long way to go while we come down from this peak.

At the moment, more than 1,400 people remain hospitalized in the region. According to Dr. Alex Garza, hospitals are reporting 53 pediatric patients (27 0-11 years of age; 26 12-18 years of age).

Dunagan said the risk of hospitalization continues to be reduced as more people get vaccinated and receive their booster shots.

Greater testing capacity also helps, Dunagan said, because people can isolate themselves and reduce the chances of spreading the virus. He also credited people who work from home, wear a face mask when in public, and practice social distancing.

Garza reported 20 new COVID deaths in task force hospitals, which are comprised of facilities run by SSM, BJC, Mercy, and St. Luke’s health systems.

More than 600 people have died from COVID in the last two months. While the omicron variant may be milder in any individual case, it will still bring deaths and other challenges to the wider population, simply because it is so widespread.

Dunagan continues to rail against people pushing the idea of letting the virus spread in order to hasten herd immunity, adding that the safest way to reach herd immunity is through vaccination.

“And while, inevitably, if an infection runs unfettered, it does reach a point where so many people have been infected that transmission stops,” Dunagan said. “That really ignores the human cost of not taking action. We have a vaccine. It’s highly effective. It’s much less troublesome to get than to experience a bout of COVID, and that protects those in the population who don’t have the strength of an immune system to ward off the virus.”