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Coronavirus peak near, recovery slow, Garza advises

ST. LOUIS – The peak of the COVID-19 coronavirus is still ahead, with the virus spreading more quickly than people are recovering from it.

“We continue to be on that steep part of the curve, and our modeling has told us that we are not quite at our peak dates yet,” Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said Monday in his daily briefing on the health crisis.

He shared the latest figures: 756 people hospitalized, up from 659 on Sunday; 196 in the ICU versus 173 on Sunday; and 142 coronavirus patients on ventilators versus 139 the day before.

On a happier note, Garza reported 26 patients newly released from the hospital, having recovered from the virus.

“We’ve made some important progress in stopping the spread of the virus, but we still have quite a significant number of people who are hospitalized,” he said.

Our overall society’s recovery from the health crisis won’t be as swift as the infection phase, he warned.

“This isn’t like a mountain peak, this is more of a gentle, rolling hill.”

A question posed to Garza about whether antibody testing could clear some people to return to normal activities brought a firm response. Garza warned that just because someone tested positive for antibodies and had apparently recovered from the virus didn’t mean the virus couldn’t reinfect that person or others. So, he said, it’s “misleading” to say that if have antibodies, you’re good to go.

He also warned people again that some companies were advertising tests that were not approved by the FDA and not validated by other labs.

Garza was asked his reaction to a planned protest Tuesday at the state capitol in Jefferson City, with hundreds expected to gather to demand the reopening of businesses.

“The challenge, as I’ve said multiple times, is opening too fast, too soon,” he said, explaining that a second wave could actually be worse than the first wave.

He said he recognized people’s desire to get back to work and play. And although health professional have a good number of the test kits needed to diagnose suspected cases of COVID-19, we still don’t have enough kits for everyone.

The Institute for Health Metrics had predicted that Missouri’s coronavirus cases would peak about the middle of April; the pandemic task force predicts it will peak a few days from now. Garza explained that a difference of a week wasn’t much.

“Our data are tracking pretty well,” he said.

Many health workers have become infected, and Garza explained that the task force was now coordinating figures from its member groups: BJC Health Care, SSM Health, Mercy and St. Luke’s Hospital. He expects to have the tally of infected employees within the week.

But he pointed out that many more workers such as home health aides and the staff of nursing homes are outside those health systems. So the tally won’t be accurate.

“It’ll be a good approximation, but it won’t tell the whole story.”

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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