CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) — St. Louis-area health officials said Thursday that the highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus appears to be fueling a surge in cases, and urged the public to avoid travel and gatherings.
“The community is not as safe as it was a month ago, and you should consider that as you plan your activities,” the St. Louis County health department said in a news release that encouraged vaccinations, booster shots and masking.
The county recorded 774 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the largest one-day total since early January. Another 593 new cases were recorded Tuesday.
The recent surge has driven the average daily count of new cases to 398, a 15.6% increase over the past week and a count well into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s high transmission threshold, the news release said.
The state’s first confirmed case of omicron was detected earlier this month in a St. Louis resident. The variant also has been detected in low levels in wastewater samples collected this month at treatment facilities in Jackson County and St. Joseph. The next wastewater report is due Friday.
So far, the variant accounts for fewer than 1% of samples sequenced in Missouri, said state health department spokeswoman Lisa Cox.
But St. Louis County officials said in the release that they believe it’s spreading in the community “because of the sharp increase in new cases.” There is now so much demand for testing that appointments are required.
COVID-19 hospitalizations are also on the rise statewide, topping more than 2,000 this week, state data shows. That’s twice as many as in early November, but still well below peak hospitalization levels from last winter and the delta-driven summer surge.
Steve Edwards, the CEO of CoxHealth in Springfield, tweeted this week that 95% of the patients are unvaccinated and none of them had a booster.
“Holiday gatherings will drive spread,” he said, urging vaccinations. “Stay safe, we continue to lose patients who falsely believed their immune system was strong enough.”
Even as cases rise, many communities have been dropping mask requirements. The Springfield school district, which is the largest in the state, was the latest, announcing Wednesday that its mask mandate would end immediately. The district had planned to remove its mask mandate sometime in January, but said that state Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s legal threats forced its timeline to move up, the Springfield News-Leader reported.
Schmitt, a Republican, tweeted that the decision was a “huge win” for Springfield students. The district, however, said masks would still be “strongly encouraged.”
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