Rise in COVID and other respiratory illnesses has local health officials on guard

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ST LOUIS – This holiday season is becoming a season of sickness in the St. Louis area. Local health officials are watching COVID, Flu and other respiratory illnesses very closely.

“We’re definitely seeing an uptick in cases.” said Hilary Babcock, infectious disease doctor and Chief Quality Officer at BJC Healthcare.

“It’s not just regional; it appears to be a national uptick in cases throughout the country.” James Hinrichs,  infectious disease physician and acting director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.

Babcock and Hinrichs are on COVID watch. But they say it’s not just COVID cases on the rise in St. Louis. Patients with the flu, RSV and other respiratory viruses are being hospitalized. With more home testing, they say it’s harder to know how widespread these illnesses are in the community.

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“We just know there’s a lot of sick people out there. Some of them have COVID. Some have the flu. Some have other respiratory viruses.” Said Babcock.

The latest seven-day rolling average of COVID cases in St. Louis County is slightly lower compared to the previous report, but Hinrichs isn’t putting much stock into that decline.

“The number of hospitalizations in St. Louis County is at a moderate level. It was low through most of the last month or so. That’s also an indication that people are getting sick from this.” Said Hinrichs.

“There are multiple strains now circulating at the same time. We don’t really have just one strain that moves through the whole population anymore. It’s really kind of a whole soup of different viruses.” said Babcock.

But many people who’ve recently been infected with COVID contend their symptoms were more severe than previous bouts with the virus.

“More fever. More sore throats. Even some gastrointestinal symptoms. A lot of this is anecdotal.” Said Hinrichs.

“Overall, in terms of all the people who have COVID, the percentage of people with COVID who end up in the hospital or end up in the ICU is still much lower than it was at the beginning of the pandemic.” Said Babcock.

One thing is clear: with holiday parties and travel increasing over the next couple of weeks, both doctors expect more people to get sick. Starting Wednesday, BJC employees will be required to mask in patient care settings. Babcock recommends masking in crowded indoor settings like airports and on planes. The doctors encourage people to get vaccinated and take other precautions.

“The vaccine is the only one that’s going to really protect against the Omicron variants that we’ve seen in the last six months and it appears to be holding true to that as far as efficacy against those variants.” said Hinrichs.

“When you are sick, stay home so that you don’t put other people at risk.” said Babcock.


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