ST. LOUIS – Due to the latest surge in COVID-19 cases throughout the St. Louis area, hospitals are once again restricting patient visitations.

BJC HealthCare and SSM Health announced on Wednesday they would be limiting visitors to prevent transmission of the virus.

Starting on Jan. 3, BJC Healthcare will only allow one visitor for adult inpatient care units. Pediatric, obstetrics, and end-of-life patients will be allowed two visitors.

The hospital system said it will not allow visitors who have symptoms of an acute illness, have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 14 days, have recently been in contact with someone with COVID-19, or refuse to follow the mask policy.

“The decision to reduce visitors was not made lightly and reflects the serious challenge we face in mitigating the virus spread and maintaining safety throughout this current surge,” a BJC Healthcare press release states.

Similarly, SSM Health will only allow one visitor at a time. The new policy, which appears to take effect immediately, applies to inpatient areas, outpatient surgeries, emergency departments, and clinical appointments. Two visitors will be permitted in pediatric care settings and family birthplace units.

“We understand these restrictions will be difficult for many, but we must make decisions rooted in safeguarding our patients, visitors, caregivers, and the community at large,” SSM Health said in a statement. “We appreciate the public’s cooperation and understanding as we focus on the well-being of our employees and patients in our care.”

All visitors at SSM Health facilities must also abide by the following policies:

• Wear approved face coverings, even when in the patient room.
• Be screened for COVID symptoms upon arrival.
• Wash their hands or use hand sanitizer upon entering and leaving a patient’s room.
• Wear a badge from the hospital to properly identify themselves while inside.

Dr. Alex Garza, chief of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, also urged people not to go to the emergency room for COVID testing as hospitals are strained.

Garza said 2,000 people have tested positive for the virus in a single day, higher than the worst days during the pandemic. Additionally, 718 people are hospitalized with COVID in the region.

“The numbers are very concerning,” he said. “We’re entering what could be the most difficult phase we have faced since this all started.”

Garza said hospitalizations are likely to get worse in the next two weeks unless more people get vaccinated and wear masks.

“Now, if you do not want to get vaccinated or you don’t want to wear a mask, at this point it’s likely that nothing that anybody says is going to change your mind,” he said. “But if you’re going to be around other people, you may want to let them know of your decisions so they can make their own choice.”