ST. LOUIS – Health professionals spoke out Friday at the daily press briefing of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, imploring the public to help stem the flood of COVID-19 virus cases.
Dr. Alex Garza, the task force’s leader, reported that area hospitals were currently treating about a thousand patients with confirmed diagnoses of COVID-19.
“Here’s the problem: While the hospitals are already almost full, the virus continues to spread like a wildfire,” he warned. So if more people become infected and need hospitalization, there may not be beds available for them – or for patients with other medical problems such as heart attacks and other emergencies.
“It’s one thing for me to stand here and tell you how bad things are,” Garza acknowledged, “but it’s quite another to hear from the people who do this day in and day out.”
He introduced four health workers on the front lines at St. Luke’s Hospital, Mercy Hospital and SSM Health-DePaul Hospital, to tell their experiences of caring for the very ill and the effects on themselves during this pandemic.
They told of 12-hours shifts without breaks, caring for people unable to breathe without mechanical help. About patients who worry that they’ll infect the staff with the COVID-19 coronavirus. Patients who die with no family member near, just the hand of a medical worker holding theirs.
It can be terrifying, not knowing how this virus will affect an individual, one worker noted. “Sometimes even a ventilator can’t get the oxygen level up enough.”
The pandemic struck the U.S. coasts first, so by the time it got here hospitals had some time to prepare; but having learned better how to treat the virus hasn’t eliminated the fear and worry, especially as infections soar.
“This wave kind of knocked us all off our feet,” another staffer explained. She worries about how to help people as more and more arrive.
“We know some patients won’t make it, and families can’t be with them.”
The health care workers all testified to their desire to take the best possible care of their patients, and to the tireless dedication of the staff at all the area’s medical centers.
They spoke of their emotions: “intense fear and worry,” joy, the pride of accomplishment.
They told of being tired, stressed and sorrowful.
And they begged their listeners to help them by following CDC guidelines. The best thing we can do is wear a mask.
“Trust me, it’s much better than being hooked up to a ventilator,” a nurse remarked.
Especially with Thanksgiving and the winter holidays approaching, another worker emphasized, “We just need to do better.”
After they spoke, Garza reiterated his plea for people to wear face masks, socially distance and follow all recommended protocols to “protect yourself and your loved ones and the front-line health workers” who are working tirelessly to prevent deaths “among the hundreds of COVID-19 patients and all the other patients.”
Garza thanked all the people who were following the guidelines. He praised Franklin County for its mask mandate, put in place Thursday night.
He also thanked Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, for Thursday’s public health warning to wear masks when in public. It’s a step in the right direction, Garza said, emphasizing that health professionals had asked Parson for a mandate and didn’t get it.
“If we can’t get a mandate, all Missourians still need to heed the warning,” Garza said.
To those who still refuse to wear a mask: “I get it. You don’t like the government to tell you what to do. …. You’re not intentionally trying to hurt yourself or hurt anyone else or put anyone else at risk …”
However, Garza explained, “You could unwittingly infect someone you love.
“Mask-wearing has never been about controlling the individual; it has been about controlling the virus and protecting everyone with a very simple act.”
Yes, masks can be uncomfortable and annoying, Garza acknowledged. But he pointed out that the people on stage with him wore masks for 12 hours at a time as they worked.
“We’re asking you just to do a little bit to help.”