ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force is asking Missouri to enact a mask mandate before hospitals become overrun with patients. Dr. Alex Garza says that the region has just two more weeks.
“We have no reserves, we have no backup. In just two more weeks we will not have the staff to take care of patients,” said Dr. Garza choking up.
The group representing area healthcare systems is also asking for a state-wide stay at home policy. People would be asked to stay home except for going to the store, school, or some jobs.
It is not just COVID-19 patients that are in danger of being turned away. If hospitals reach the maximum capacity then they may have to turn away everyone. It is not clear who would be eligible for medical care.
“We will have more deaths from other diseases because there will be no capacity to care for all patients,” said Dr. Garza. “If we do not implement these steps we will lose lives. If we do not implement these steps more and more patients will be turned away.”
Dr. Keith M. Starke said that area hospitals are already turning away patients. They had 129 requests for patients to transfer from outlying communities. He said that over 30 of them were not accepted because there are not enough resources in St. Louis hospitals.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson has endorsed mask-wearing and social distancing to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in the state. But, there is no state-wide stay-at-home orders or mask mandate. He has told county executives, mayors and other leaders to take a regional approach.
“Make no mistake, we are at war. Right now the virus is winning that war. It will take action to help turn the tide,” said Dr. Alex Garza. “I liken this to my time in the military. You cannot have an effective campaign with five generals. You need one.”
The numbers of COVID-19 cases are rising dramatically. They are coming from everywhere. In the spring there were more cases in urban areas. This is not the case anymore. The cases are coming from cities, towns, and rural areas alike. Hospitals that rely on major metropolitan areas to take care of patient overflow may not have that luxury in a few weeks.
“We will run out of ICU capacity in the first week of December if we don’t act now,” said Dr. Garza. “There are no safe harbors anymore. Patients are coming from all over the region. We are getting requests from far, far away to treat patients in St. Louis.”
Will the new COVID-19 trends change anyone’s behavior? St. Louis County is adding additional restrictions next week. The city of St. Louis is also adding more restrictions. But, cases are not rising as fast in those two areas. Doctors say it is because there is a mask mandate in St. Louis County and the city.
The mayor of St. Charles said he tested positive for the coronavirus about two weeks ago. Despite the rising cases in St. Charles Mayor Dan Borgmeyer said that adding restrictions would not be enforceable, saying, “we can’t put a cop in every store to make sure everybody walks in with a mask. A lot of the citizens just need to step up and do the right thing.”
“I am hopeful by showing the magnitude of these numbers and the impact on the healthcare system that it will change minds. We all need to speak with one voice. There are ways to keep the cases down,” said Dr. Garza.
Garza said that a plan needs to be put into place for what happens when the healthcare system becomes overrun.
“I’m not a dramatic guy, but this scares me,” said Dr. Garza.