Fourteen patients have died of COVID-19-related complications at Mercy Hospital Washington since the start of the year, including seven who died over the weekend, hospital President Eric Eoloff said Tuesday. The age range of those who died recently, according to Eoloff, was 65 to 82.

The deaths over the weekend, along with patients who were progressing and were moved out of the ICU, moved the hospital out of ICU overflow status on Monday night after one week of being in overflow. 

The hospital has treated nearly 500 patients for COVID-19 since the pandemic began in March. 

Franklin County reported 42 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing the total for 2021 so far to 776 cases. Since March 2020, the county has reported 7,764 cases of COVID-19. 

Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said the 42 new cases reported Tuesday could be a sign that “perhaps we’re on the downhill slide. We’ll know as time moves on.” 

The seven-day testing positivity rate was at 24.5 percent, the lowest it has been since Jan. 6. Eoloff said the increased positivity rate over the previous week, in which the rate climbed to 27.8 percent Friday, is “very likely due to holiday gatherings.” The 14-day average of new cases has climbed every day for the past eight days and Tuesday was at 69.71, the highest reported since Dec. 13 when it was 70.57. 

Brinker said the two most important numbers for him and his team to watch are the number of hospitalizations and the number of long-term care cases. The number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 was the reason the commission issued the countywide mask mandate from Nov. 20 to Dec. 20. 

In Tuesday’s report, there were 23 county residents hospitalized with COVID-19 and nine active long-term care cases. 

“It’s encouraging that potential admissions into the hospitals are on the decline. That’s what we need to be aware of,” Brinker said.

In his weekly report to the city of Washington, Emergency Management Director Mark Skornia said the citywide mask ordinance will remain in effect. Two out of three metrics the city uses to track COVID-19 impact — the 14-day new case average and the risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19 — are red. The third metric, the risk of death from COVID-19, was in the yellow zone Monday. For the mask ordinance to end, two of the three metrics need to stay out of the red for four consecutive weeks. Skornia said the city uses county reporting on all the metrics to be consistent, so the deaths at Mercy will not show up in the reports until they are verified by the state and county, a process that can take longer than a month. 

First Responders Bumped Up on Vaccine List

The first non-Mercy staff in the county has begun receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Mercy and the state of Missouri have offered the vaccine to other health care workers such as dentists, chiropractors and optometrists. Eoloff said about 2,500 health care workers in the community have been vaccinated thus far. 

Area long-term care facilities also began last week administering the Moderna vaccine to staff and residents through a partnership with CVS and Walgreens. 

Over the weekend, state health officials announced that first responders would be moved up to the highest priority group to receive the vaccine, which includes the health care workers and long-term care facility staff and residents. They were previously included in the second priority group of other essential workers and Missourians over 75 years old. 

“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Brinker said. “It’s good that first responders are now included in that 1A vaccination group. That’s great news for our police and fire and ambulance folks and EMTs who are out there truly getting in the face of it every day.”