Lori Weathersponn

Occupational health nurse Veronica Murray administers the coronavirus to Lori Weatherspoon, vice president and chief nursing officer at Christian Hospital as the first vaccines come into the St. Louis area for front-line health care workers.

There have been several new developments in efforts to mitigate and halt the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and its effect on families, businesses and the economy. Locally, representatives of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health met with an informal working group of restaurant advisors on Tuesday, Dec. 22 on “a plan to reopen some form of indoor dining in restaurants and other food establishments.” In a statement, the County said the plan is not finalized but “several ideas for new protocols proposed by group members will be included.”

“We expect their work to be completed this week, and if the number of weekly cases of COVID-19 remain stable, I intend to announce details of a limited reopening plan, a week from today,” St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page said at his Wednesday morning media briefing. Page attributed a drop in new COVID-positive cases to adherence to “Safer at Home” orders that haven been in place since Nov. 17 when the County was having over 800 new cases of COVID-19 per day. 

“Today we are just over 500 cases a day, and we attribute that drop in cases to good compliance in the community with health protocols,” Page said. “Both the CDC and the White House Task Force consider anything above about 145 new cases per day to be very high risk for a jurisdiction of our size, and we are at three times that number right now.”

Regarding vaccine development, Moderna’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine is the second vaccine to receive Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and inoculations began this week for residents and staff at nursing homes and elder care facilities. Neighboring St. Charles County received its first does of the Moderna vaccine from the state on Dec. 22 for direct patient-facing healthcare workers and individuals who live or work in long-term care facilities, as recommended by state and federal health authorities.

St. Charles County Department of Public Health Director Demetrius Cianci-Chapman said in a press release, “We have been preparing for this distribution since the early days of the pandemic and are ready to deliver the vaccine to protect members of our community.” 

For individuals who are willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine, this is the beginning of efforts to end the coronavirus pandemic. Healthcare experts stress that everyone should continue to wear masks, continue to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly, and continue to social distance from others. 

Dr. Alex Garza, incident commander of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said Wednesday that COVID-positive daily hospitalizations remain very high.

“Our positivity rate though, is still very high – it’s hovering around 20% – that is our Task Force hospital diagnostic rate for testing,” Garza said. “We would want that to be down around that 5% mark before we’d feel comfortable with saying that we’ve adequately suppressed the virus.”

And just in time for Christmas are spikes in COVID-19 cases that may have come from those who ignored warnings against Thanksgiving holiday travel, parties and get-togethers with loved ones and friends who live outside of their own households.

And if past human behavior is any indicator, there may be more of the same from non-virtual celebrations of holidays throughout the New Year. Garza said, “we are still very much in crisis mode.” 

“COVID-19 is a brutal, deadly and highly transmissible disease, and if we give it the opportunity, it will continue to spread through our communities and claim more lives,” Garza said. “That is why I must ask you again, to please, stay safe as you celebrate this Christmas holiday; celebrate at home; celebrate with people you live with; and do everything you can to keep yourself and the people you love, from winding up in the hospital with this virus.” 

In Washington, the $900 billion bipartisan federal stimulus bill that would have put $600 in the hands of individuals is now in jeopardy, as the lame duck president said on Tuesday that he does not like the bill and wants $2,000 stimulus checks for individuals, otherwise, he says the next administration can come up with its own stimulus plan. CNN reports Speaker Nancy Pelosi will move for a unanimous consent vote for $2,000 direct payments on Thursday, Dec. 24. 

Finally, numbers from the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center remind us of the human toll of COVID-19: 78,145,043 – that is the global confirmed number of COVID-19 cases as of mid-morning on December 23, with 1,719,973 people dead from this disease.

In the U.S , there are more than 18.23 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nearly 323,000 deaths – deaths that could populate the entire City of St. Louis, plus 7%, according to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.  Those deaths equate roughly to the size of Corpus Christi, Texas.

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