New COVID variant drives up cases this holiday season
Fox News’ Jonathan Serrie reports on the fastest spreading COVID variant in the U.S., JN.1, that does not appear to cause more severe disease but spreads more easily.
St. Louis officials announced a mask mandate for city employees last week while citing rising COVID-19 and respiratory illness cases, only to rescind the order less than 24 hours later, reports show.
“Each winter respiratory viruses cause a significant health burden in our community, and this year is no exception. Influenza, RSV and COVID-19 diagnoses and hospital visits have been sharply increasing, particularly since the Thanksgiving holiday. Beginning January 5th, 2024, all City of St. Louis employees will be required to wear a mask indoors,” an initial letter sent by the city’s department of health to city employees stated of the mask mandate, according to KMOX St. Louis.
The letter cited how flu cases have increased by 55% this winter compared to “the highest median value of the past five years,” while Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) cases increased by 190% within a local health and hospital system compared to the “highest median value of the previous 4-years.” The health department added that 270 people in the St. Louis region were admitted to a hospital for COVID-19 treatment during the week of Dec. 23, which was a 38% increase over data from the month prior.
However, less than 24 hours after announcing the indoor mask mandate for city workers, St. Louis, which is led by Democratic Mayor Tishaura Jones, rescinded the order and updated guidance to state that people are “strongly” recommended to wear masks.
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Democratic St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones speaks at her victory party, Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File)
“The City of St. Louis has updated its communications with employees surrounding masking,” a statement from Mayor Tishaura Jones’ office said, according to KSDK. “The City of St. Louis Department of Health strongly recommends masking indoors for all City of St. Louis employees, effective immediately.”
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The outlet reported that local hospitals were surprised by the city’s original guidance, explaining they have not been overburdened by patient capacity and are only seeing a seasonal increase in patients.
A nurse prepares COVID-19 vaccines at a baseball game on Aug. 5, 2021 in Springfield, Missouri. (Getty Images)
“BJC is not seeing a strain on hospital capacity,” officials with local hospital system BJC Health Care told 5 On Your Side. “We are experiencing a seasonal increase in respiratory illness, which is typical for this time of year.”
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In this May 21, 2021 file photo, a person holds a mask while walking outside in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Another local hospital, Mercy Hospital, reported it was another “typical winter” season, while the interim co-director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health told the outlet that flu cases this year are “not alarming.”
“Luckily our influenza has not spiked yet and it is going up, but it’s not nearly what it was last year,” according to Dr. Jim Hinrichs, the interim co-director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health. “It’s moderate. It’s not alarming.”
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The St. Louis skyline on the Mississippi River from East St. Louis, Illinois. (Photo by: Visions of America/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Jonathan Shiflett, a spokesperson for Republican Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, who held an anti-mask mandate position during the pandemic, told Fox News Digital that the governor recently said on a radio show that he would oppose new mask mandates and made a call to St. Louis City Hall when he learned of the city’s mandate.
“Recently, Governor Parson said … that he would step in and oppose new mask mandates. Governor Parson kept his word. A conversation was had with the St. Louis Mayor’s Office, and a new policy has been issued reversing the earlier mask mandate,” Shiflett said.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson delivers the State of the State address on Jan. 18, 2023 in Jefferson City, Missouri. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Now, city leaders are “strongly” urging city employees to mask up, as opposed to requiring them to wear masks indoors, in light of flu, RSV and COVID cases.
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“The City of St. Louis Department of Health has consistently recommended masking, and the department is not mandating masks for City residents at large,” the city said in a press release, stressing residents also keep up to date with vaccinations.
Fox News Digital reached out to Jones’ office and Parson’s office Sunday morning for additional comment on the matter.