CoronavirusFeaturedNewsThe NorthSider

Local officials hope, worry as virus strains health system

ST. LOUIS – Officials entered 2021 with the hope that vaccines will eventually eliminate the scourge of COVID-19, but also with the fear of what may happen if things get worse in the meantime.

That was the tone of live Facebook briefings in the past several days by the leader of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force and Mayor Lyda Krewson.

“As we enter the new year, ICUs are still operating at nearly full capacity, and there’s little room left if we were to have a surge in patients,” Dr. Alex Garza, the head of the pandemic task force, said in its final video briefing of 2020.

Garza said Wednesday that the average number of daily admissions to hospitals in the task force in a seven-day period was 100. The figure was briefly more than 150 in November.

“I think it will come to nobody’s surprise that we’re in the same situation that we have been for the last few months,” Garza said.

“It continues to stretch hospitals and our health care workers to the limit,” he warned. “Any additional surge in patients could push our hospitals to the point that they can’t handle.”

In St. Louis, Krewson said in her video briefing on Wednesday that the number of new daily cases was down but that it could easily go back up again. The latest average daily number of new cases per 100,000 was about 29 in the city, 42 in St. Louis County and 34 in St. Charles County. However, she said, not many people got tested over the holidays.

“We’re happy that these numbers are declining and the average number of cases is down, but it is not something we believe we can rely on to hold up over the next week or two,” Krewson said.

Krewson said the first group to get vaccines should include health care workers, and nursing home residents and staff.

The next group will start getting shots in late January. That includes more health care workers, those older than 65 and people with chronic health conditions.  Also included are first responders, police, firefighters and others.

That first group accounts for two million to two and a half million people out of a state population of 6.1 million. It may take two to three months before everybody else gets shots, Krewson said.

“Receiving the vaccine is not really within our control completely, but we know that the federal government is ramping up and shipping more and more,” Krewson said.

Meanwhile, figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that there’s a backlog in giving out shots. As of Wednesday, 213,925 doses had been distributed and only 66,540 shots had been given in Missouri. Nationally, more than 12,4 million doses had been distributed and 2.8 million people had been vaccinated.

Krewson also said that circuit judges had extended a ban on evictions within the city for one month, through January.

“You can’t be evicted for not paying your rent unless you’re committing a crime or you’re tearing up the apartment,” she said.

The new CARES Act, meant to aid recovery from the economic effects of the pandemic, allows rental assistance to continue into the new year. So far, that program has paid rent for more than 1,900 people.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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