ST. LOUIS – Rising COVID-19 numbers in the metropolitan area make Dr. Alex Garza a worried man. Garza, the leader of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, spoke about the continuing spread of the virus in bleak terms during his Facebook briefing Friday.“I wish I could stand here and tell everybody that the St. louis metropolitan area is doing well, but unfortunately the numbers are telling us otherwise,” he said somberly.
He cited rising admissions for the coronavirus in the St. Louis area and throughout Missouri, which has recorded another near-record number of hospitalizations.
“Admission rates at these levels just can’t be sustained over time,” Garza warned.
“We’ve climbed to a significantly challenging level.”
The admission rate is heading up, with 50 new admissions Friday at the task force’s hospitals – one of the highest figures since the middle of August, he noted. Friday’s numbers showed 279 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the hospitals; 69 were in ICUs, with 41 of them on ventilators. An additional 111 people were hospitalized with suspected cases of the coronavirus with; 18 in ICUs and four of them on ventilators.
Missouri’s highest rates of infection are now in rural counties. Garza pointed out that those are areas that have no mask mandates. Urban areas, including the city of St. Louis, St. Louis County and Kansas City, have had such mandates in place.
The city of St. Louis has had a total of 7,409 confirmed cases as of Saturday, with 119 suspected cases and 200 deaths.
Garza said several times in his press conference, as he has said all along: Wear a mask, wash your hands, use sanitizer, stay away from large gatherings and at least six feet away from other people.
He added another specific direction: Wear the face mask properly, NOT BELOW THE NOSE.
“Until we all do these things regularly, we will continue to see hospitalizations and case counts stubbornly high within the region,” he said.
This is even more important as cooler weather arrives and as influenza season takes hold, Garza explained.
A continued upsurge in cases of COVID-19 coronavirus cases at the same time as a burst of flu could overwhelm the area’s hospitals.
A questioner at the press conference asked Garza, can hospitals cope?
His response: “It depends.”
Is this year’s flu vaccine a good match, so the number of people needing hospital care can be minimized? We don’t yet know. Are people taking measures that decrease their vulnerability to both viruses? Some are; some aren’t. So there’s no definitive answer.
In the worst-case scenario, with a bad flu season plus continued coronavirus, hospitals may have to go back to limiting visitors, postponing elective surgeries and so on, Garza acknowledged.
Garza pointed out that the Southern Hemisphere was having a “remarkably mild” flu season and that they attributed that to all the coronavirus mitigation measures people there are following.
Another question was about restaurants’ hope of staying open into the cold weather by using outdoor tents for outdoor dining. Garza explained that health departments are in charge of regulating such activities. Health officials must decide whether to treat such tent operations as indoor or outdoor.
Without replying explicitly, Garza made his own opinion clear: Think of camping, he suggested, and the palpable difference between sleeping in the open versus inside a tent. Or think how, when someone smokes a cigarette, the smoke can be diffused outside but will stay inside a tent, affecting the smoker and anyone else there, too.
Tents can act more like indoor structures, Garza said, because of limited air flow.