There were 250 new cases of COVID-19 in Franklin County from Sept. 4 to Sept. 10, according to a weekly update from the Franklin County Health Department.

This is very similar to last week when the health department reported 251 new COVID-19 cases in the county. Altogether, there have been 11,446 COVID-19 cases in Franklin County since the onset of the pandemic.

There were no new deaths reported in Franklin County this week. In total, there have been 187 deaths of patients with COVID-19 in Franklin County since the onset of the pandemic, according to the update. Statewide, there have been 10,841 COVID-19 deaths. The seven-day rolling positivity rate — the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive — was 13.1 percent.

There are 25 people hospitalized for COVID-19 this week. That’s a jump from last week, when there were 15.

Dr. Ann-Elizabeth Mohart, chief medical officer at Mercy Hospital Washington, said that this has been difficult for her staff.

“That can certainly take a toll on staff,” she said. “They’ve been working on this (pandemic) for over a year now and trying to maintain their energy and their ability to care for these really sick patients. When you get this many patients, it does strain you. You know, as humans, it can put a strain on you, emotionally and physically.”

She said many of these COVID-19 patients get very sick and are forced to stay at the hospital longer than most patients.

Mohart said, fortunately, this hasn’t overloaded the hospital to the point where it can’t handle other non-COVID-19 patients.

“We are maintaining our ability to care well for all of our patients only because our people have been amazingly willing to go that extra step and to also, in some ways, expand their roles,” she said. 

Of those who tested positive for COVID-19 since Sept. 4, the average age was just under 33. That number has been creeping down in recent weeks. From Aug. 28 to Sept. 3, the average age of people who tested positive for COVID-19 in Franklin County was about 35. The week before that, Aug. 21 to 27, that number was about 37.

Mohart said this is to be expected. Younger people have much lower rates of vaccination and thus are more susceptible to the virus.

“That’s expected that the virus is going to move through the people who have less of an immunity,” she said. “So I don’t think that’s a surprise.”

Across all ages, 50.8 percent of people in Franklin County have received their first of two doses of the vaccine, and 46 percent of people are fully vaccinated as of Friday morning, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Statewide, 52.5 percent of Missourians have received their first of two doses, and 46 percent are fully vaccinated. Additionally, as of Thursday, 410 people in Franklin County have received a third dose of the vaccine. A third dose is available for certain individuals with weakened immune systems.

This all comes as Warren County and Lincoln County were the subject of an advisory from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, which labeled the counties as a COVID-19 Hotspot. The department gave the two counties a “high” severity rating.

Warren County had 149 new COVID-19 cases in the past week, and Lincoln County had 247 new cases, according to the advisory. In Warren County, 34.6 percent of people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and in Lincoln County, 30.3 percent of people are fully vaccinated. In Warren County, 119 people have received third doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force discussed these third doses at a virtual briefing Thursday afternoon. The briefing was led by Clay Dunagan, chief clinical officer at BJC HealthCare and head of the task force, which works to respond to the pandemic in the St. Louis region.

Dunagan explained that the third dose and booster shots are two different things. The third dose is for people with weakened immune systems. A booster is simply another dose that people with healthy immune systems take to increase immunity.

“We do know that boosters do boost the immune system, increase antibody levels, and in population studies, they appear to decrease the risk of infection,” Dunagan said. “What we don’t know is what the optimal timing for a booster is.”

He said that health care professionals are hashing that and the answers to other questions out now, but he tentatively predicts that there will be a recommendation for booster shots by the end of this year.

“But it’s a little premature to speculate,” he said.

Dunagan also presented the numbers on pediatric COVID-19 patients. As of Thursday, 13 children aged 0 to 11 — who are too young to be vaccinated — were in the hospital, and four were in the intensive care unit for COVID-19 in the St. Louis region. Additionally, there were 11 children aged 12 to 18 in the hospital and one in the ICU for COVID-19 in the St. Louis region.

“The question (that) has come up a couple of times is, ‘How severely ill are kids in ICUs?’ And these patients are very ill,” he said.

Dunagan also spoke about breakthrough cases, or instances of people contracting the virus after being fully vaccinated. Dunagan pointed out that doctors and the vaccine manufacturers expected some people to get the virus after being vaccinated, but the chances of that happening are much lower after receiving the vaccine.

“It’s really to be expected that there would be breakthrough cases,” he said. “While breakthrough cases are a concern, right now we’re seeing what we expect: less chance of being infected. And if you get infected as a vaccinated person, it’s less severe.”

Dunagan also discussed the newly emerged mu variant, a variant of COVID-19 that has arisen out of South America. He said that although doctors are watching it, they’re not yet very fearful of it. Dunagan said that health professionals have identified it as a “variant of interest,” which is one step below a “variant of concern.” The delta variant is still their top concern.

“It’s so far not been able to flourish the way delta has,” he said.

Dunagan said the mu variant has accounted for “much less than 1 percent of cases” in the U.S.