ST. LOUIS – More than a thousand St. Louisans who were hospitalized with the COVID-19 coronavirus have recovered and are back home, as of Friday night.
Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, called the announcement of the discharge of a total of 1,034 patients “really exciting and important news.”
One of those patients was a St. Louis police officer who was discharged Friday from St. Luke’s Hospital.
Mayor Lyda Krewson said via Twitter: “Terrific news to round out the week. After long fight with COVID-19, one of our brave St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officers is finally going home!”
Garza called the milestone number of hospital discharges “a direct reflection of the outstanding work and heroic commitment of thousands of health care workers in the region” as well as the efforts of other essential workers, small businesses, officials and the public.
Garza reviewed the figures as of Friday night: 701 hospitalizations, slightly up from 694 the day before but still way up from early April; 168 coronavirus patients in the ICU, slightly down from 170 on Thursday; and 114 of those on ventilators, down from 123 Thursday.
“We’re making some really important progress,” Garza said, and that progress is based on science and math – and on the efforts of us all.
One way infectious disease in populations is measured, Garza explained, is by a factor called “reproduction” – the number of people likely to be infected by each person with the virus.
When the pandemic had just begun, as people went about the course of normal life, the reproduction figure was about 5 – so each infected person probably infected five other people, and each of them infected five others, and so on. That way the virus spread quickly.
Once the stay-at-home order took effect in the third week of March, with social distancing and hand-washing, the reproduction figure dropped to about 2. And now, Garza said, we may have cut that figure to 1 or less, with people no longer spreading the disease to others.
The only way to stop a pandemic is 1) to prevent transmission or 2) have and use an effective vaccine. We don’t yet have such a vaccine, although experts are desperately working to develop one.
The task force had predicted that the St. Louis area could reach the peak of virus cases this weekend. But anything that increases the risk of transmission can start upward trend again, Garza warned.
Before reopening businesses and entertainment venues, “We want to see a sustained reduction” in the numbers of hospitalizations.
How do we responsibly begin to reopen the economy? We need to think through new guidelines so we can do that safely, he warned.
He pondered the example of restaurants.
“How can we adjust the way that they do business, to decrease the risk of transmission?” Garza suggested perhaps tables 10 feet apart, wait staff in face masks, no waiting in the usual areas for a table, and use of hand sanitizer when entering and leaving.
To a question about getting back to “old routines,” Garza responded: We may never get back to “old routines” until we get a vaccine.