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Rough weeks ahead, pandemic task force leader warns

The next two to three weeks are likely to see the peak of the coronavirus’ attacks on the St. Louis region.

That’s the expert opinion of Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force and Chief Medical Officer of SSM Health. He offered his judgment in a briefing Monday, saying that the task force planned to livestream every day to keep the public informed of the situation.

Dr. Alex Garza
The next couple of weeks are going to be extremely difficult for the  region, Garza warned.

“It’s really important for all of us as a community to come together and decrease the spread,” he said. “Social distancing, hand washing, keeping surfaces clean, all of those things will help.”

Before discussing the specifics of the rise in coronavirus cases, Garza reminded his audience that it was important “not to pay too much attention to day by day” figures but to look at trends.

As of Monday, he said, 545 area residents were hospitalized with the virus, compared with 468 on Sunday. Hospital ICUs harbored 224 people versus 164 on Sunday, and of those, about 70 percent of those – 172 versus 139 – need ventilators. That’s typical of the need for ventilators among those patients.

“We are on the steep part of the curve right now, and according to our models we will be going through our peak within the next two to three weeks,” Garza said.

“How we get through these difficult times is really dependent upon us as a community, and not necessarily as a health care system.”

Garza referred to the task force’s dual approach – strong, consistent efforts in the next few weeks to slow the virus’ spread, and then ongoing work to keep up those efforts – as “the hammer and the dance.” He emphasized that it’s up to all of us to slow the spread of the virus so medical professionals can handle the flood of cases without being overwhelmed.

At the end of April, he predicted, 80,000 people in the St. Louis region will have been infected, with anywhere from 1,300 to more than 3,000 who need hospitalization. The goal is to keep as far under that top number as possible.

“We will save lives if we all do our part, and the biggest part really comes from the community. So keep that in mind,” he said yet again.

Garza praised the essential workers, who are under “a tremendous amount of stress right now.”  He compared their struggle to his own wartime military service.

“That takes a huge toll,” he said, and he told listeners that what had helped him most after returning from deployment was being thanked for his service. The people being deployed now include medical, food service and janitorial workers, he added.

“When it’s over, reach out to people and thank them for what they’re doing,” he suggested. “They are truly heroes out there who are doing this work for the benefit of us as a society and as a country.”




Staff is home to The NorthSider and The SouthSider weekly community newspapers. The SouthSider publishes 25,000 copies every Tuesday. The NorthSider publishes 25,000 copies every Thursday. They are distributed at over 600 locations across St. Louis.

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