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ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The mask debate is happening as area hospitals report a surge in COVID cases and deaths.

Numbers are reaching the highest we’ve seen since the winter. And many businesses are concerned about what this means for the future.

An unfortunate milestone has now been reached.

“We had really felt like we had gotten past the worst of the pandemic, so people have let their guard down, and now, I think there’s a great deal of reluctance to take this back up again,” St. Louis Pandemic Task Force Dr. Clay Dunagan said.

Serge Patel of Crimson Serpents Outpost in The Grove knows this too well. He’s owned his shop for years, but with COVIDnumbers on the rise, he’s worried for the future of his business.

“At the height of the pandemic, we were almost closed for five months,” Patel said.

“We didn’t really start getting back to normal until late September, but people came back and business has been good.”

But now COVID numbers are increasing past old highs. The St. Louis Pandemic Task Force says hospitalizations are at 500, which is the highest since February.

“We shouldn’t be at this point where there’s a rise, people need to get vaccinated,” Patel said.

In Midtown, the owner of Shack’s Barber Shop shares the same viewpoint.

“It’s a virus, it’s not going away ever and we have to be more diligent about protecting ourselves,” Keith Shackleford said.

There have been 48 deaths in just the last week from COVID. Making the weekly average the highest in six months.

Another reason why Schackleford got his vaccine and hopes his customers do too.

“I’m definitely concerned. I don’t want to shut down again,” Shackleford said.

Something not one business or person wants to do.

“I can’t really dictate what people think, or how they choose to navigate and deal with the virus. So, me personally, I’m going to keep my mask on. I’m vaccinated and I recommend people to get vaccinated too but that’s their choice,” Shackleford said.

A choice many will have to make as cases don’t slow down anytime soon.