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Survivors call 20,000 COVID-19 patients released from hospitals a 'celebratory milestone'

'It's amazing and it brings me joy to hear all those people are now back with their families,' one pandemic survivor says

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — "A major milestone occurred this week," said Dr. Alex Garza, the head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force on Wednesday.

Garza calls the "milestone" momentous.

More than 20,000 St. Louis area patients, who battled COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, are now out of task force hospitals and back home with their families.

"That's 20,000 people that were sick enough to be required to be in the hospital, but were able to survive this terrible virus," Garza said.

"I'm ecstatic to hear that. That's amazing," Cerese Pennington said.

Last February, then 64-year-old Pennington was diagnosed with the virus.

"I have since recovered. I still have a few lingering symptoms such as extreme fatigue, but at that time it was frightening for me to even tell my family that I had COVID," Pennington said.

The retired St. Louis city worker, mom and grandmother battled COVID-19 for a month, even lost her voice at one point.

What's more, Pennington's 72-year-old uncle, a popular pastor in Michigan, died from the virus.

"During my time with the virus, there were so many people in the hospital, and I know the plight of families because they couldn't see their loved ones and to know that all these people are now home and pretty much well, that just brings me joy," Cerese said.

"Oh, it's just so exciting," said Mary Grobe.

Grobe, 41, is also thrilled to hear more than 20,000 patients beat COVID.

It's been four months since Grobe survived the scare of her life.

"I'm definitely lucky to have survived," she said.

Grobe and Pennington recently got their COVID vaccines.

Both now have messages of healing and hope for their fellow survivors.

"I am grateful to be alive. I know that I am a miracle and I want people to know that you can survive COVID," Pennington said.

"I want to tell people to keep hanging on and do what you can to prevent it. If you can get vaccinated, absolutely get out there and do it," Grobe said.

An update shows the St. Louis area could reach the 75% vaccination mark in early July.