Garza talks of ‘new normal’ at final pandemic task force briefing


ST. LOUIS – With more COVID-19 restrictions being eased, the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force held its final public briefing Monday.

Dr. Alexa Garza, the head of the task force, is also a colonel in the US Army Reserve. He says when the task force began 14 months ago, he followed the model of a military incident task force.

“Today, the war is not completely over, but the battlefield conditions have improved significantly,” he said.

Garza says the task force met its three goals: decrease new transmissions of the virus, eliminate shelter-in-place orders, and reactivate the local economy.

“We can now get back to a new normal where we take the virus seriously, but it doesn’t have to dominate our day-to-day lives,” he said.

The task force also marks the first time the four major hospital groups in the St. Louis region collaborated against a health crisis.

But the war isn’t over.

“One thing we do know is COVID-19 is likely to be with us for a very long time,” said
Dr. Clay Dunagan, BJC senior vice president and chief clinical officer.

The members of the task force gathered without wearing masks for the final public briefing. They warned the Delta variant of the virus may lead to new outbreaks in the fall. That’s why getting vaccinated now is so important.

“I did my research, got the facts, and got myself and entire family vaccinated against COVID-19,” said St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones.

“To the very end, my dad, who is 96 years-old, refused to get a vaccine until his 75-year-old nephew got very sick and almost didn’t survive,” said Jefferson County Executive Dennis Gannon. “So please don’t let it take those kinds of things to happen in your life to decide to do the next thing.”

It wasn’t always easy getting everyone on the same page to fight the virus.

“Yes, we didn’t always make the same decision and boy we had a lot of great debates about what we should or shouldn’t do, which I thought was healthy,” St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann said.

But lessons were learned as health care workers continue to face the challenge of a lifetime. Bouquets of flowers were given as a sign of love and appreciation to six nurses from the four major medical groups in the area.

“The task force showed the power of partnership, the value of cooperation, and became a dependable, trusted voice on what was happening in the pandemic,” St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page said.

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