O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — COVID-19 cases are rising sharply again across Missouri, prompting renewed concerns about overcrowding at hospitals and long waits for emergency services and hospital beds.
Data posted on the state's COVID-19 dashboard on Tuesday showed 1,637 people hospitalized with the virus. By comparison, 951 were hospitalized a month ago. The number of intensive care unit patients has risen to 338, up from 228 on Nov. 5. In-patient bed capacity is at 15% in the St. Louis region, 18% in Kansas City and just 12% in northwestern Missouri.
Dr. Clay Dunagan of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force said colder weather is driving more people indoors, giving the virus greater opportunity to spread, especially among the unvaccinated. He also cited "reduced masking and distancing as people have gotten tired of these precautions."
Dunagan added a third factor: Immunity is starting to wane for those who got shots early on. He urged everyone to get a booster shot.
"Right now, we are losing ground against the virus and seeing a pretty clear escalation (in hospitalizations) in the region," Dunagan said during a news conference on Monday.
The situation is similar in Kansas City. A weekly report posted on the Kansas City region's COVID-19 data hub cited "an alarming upward trend" in hospitalizations, mostly among people who are not vaccinated.
The report noted that the high volume of COVID-19 patients may lead to "longer wait times for emergency services and a decreased availability of local hospital beds." Dunagan raised similar concerns and said some elective procedures may be delayed if the surge escalates.
Only one case of the omicron variant of the virus has been confirmed in Missouri - in St. Louis - but Dunagan said it's just a matter of time before omicron leads to even more cases.
The new surge, though not unexpected, comes at a time when many hospitals have lost staff as part of the fallout of fighting the virus for more than a year-and-a-half. Staff shortages create "less buffer than we had a year ago" as the number of sicknesses increases, Dunagan said.
Vaccination rates remain low among children and teenagers. While 52% of all Missourians have completed vaccination, just 13.8% of children ages 5-14 and 41% of children ages 15-17 have completed vaccination, according to the state dashboard.