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ST. LOUIS – For a second straight day, new COVID-19 admissions have fallen under the 200-patient plateau at St. Louis-area hospitals and the region recorded its largest single-day round of patient discharges since the pandemic began.

According to the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, 226 patients were able to go home from hospitals, while 194 new patients were admitted. It marks the first time since the week before Christmas that more patients were discharged than admitted in a single day. It’s also the first real sign of hope since the omicron-variant has fueled an unprecedented surge in hospitalizations in St. Louis. However, doctors warn the worse is still yet to come.

Sadly, the task force also reported 22 new deaths as patients succumbed to the virus as they fought for life in task force hospitals, which are comprised of facilities run by the SSM, BJC, Mercy, and St. Luke’s health systems. Those new deaths mark the ninth highest total of deaths in one day since the pandemic began almost two years ago. The single-day record in that span is 28 deaths. More than 150 patients have died so far this year from complications attributed to COVID.

Task force leaders Dr. Alex Garza and Dr. Clay Dunagan spoke Tuesday via the group’s Facebook page to voice the continued frustration in the medical community that not enough people are taking the omicron variant seriously. The variant has been touted by some nationally as less dangerous than other variants, but the doctors say that belief is simply not true.

“There is some indication that omicron may cause somewhat milder illness—especially in vaccinated individuals or otherwise healthy people—but how much so isn’t really clear,” Dunagan said. “What we do know is that even if it’s a little less virulent than delta and others, omicron is still a very nasty bug and can be incredibly serious.”

Dunagan said omicron has proved to be tough to battle for the staffs working tirelessly in area hospitals.

“In just a few weeks, omicron has resulted in many more infections than any of the previous variants and it’s caused a record number of people to be hospitalized in cities across the country,” he said. “The overall toll it’s having on our citizens is unprecedented in this pandemic. Trust the people in the hospital. You do not want to get this version of the virus.”

The task force numbers released today offered little evidence that the current surge was waning, but also did not offer any strong evidence of the rapid escalation seen in the previous two weeks. COVID-positive patients numbered 1,348 on Tuesday – an increase of only eight patients over yesterday’s total. The number of patients in ICU beds and needing ventilator care remained flat. It’s the first time in weeks that single-day increases from one day to the next were not sizable jumps in patients seeking care. Still, Dr. Garza said the record number of patients needing hospital care is wearing down the healthcare community.

“We keep setting records every day for COVID patients in our hospitals. Our emergency departments are overcrowded. Many of our staff are out, and the ones who are working are exhausted and they are worried about getting their own families sick,” he said. “And although it’s hard to comprehend, we believe it’s probably going to get worse over the next several weeks.”

Of the more than 1,300 COVID-positive patients currently hospitalized, 31% of them are vaccinated. Task force doctors point to the reciprocal number in those figures, bemoaning the fact that nearly 70% of all those hospitalized are unvaccinated people.

The task force says most of the current hospitalizations were avoidable if people had merely sought the free vaccinations offered over the better part of the last 10 months. Also included in today’s totals, there are now 56 pediatric patients hospitalized for COVID with 13 of those needing ICU beds for critical care.