ST. LOUIS – St. Louis area hospitals set another pandemic record today when it comes to COVID hospitalizations and it is putting a massive strain on the health care system.
“The pandemic is winning, it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Dr. Alex Garza, incident commander of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force during an afternoon briefing.
The latest numbers from the task force show a record 1,114 people are hospitalized for COVID. They also saw a record number of new patients overnight. The latest data shows there were 213 new hospital admissions. That is on top of the 176 new patients reported yesterday.
The task force also reports 50 suspected COVID-positive patients, which added to the known COVID-positive cases puts 1,164 people in the hospital with the virus.
Doctors say they are also seeing an ‘alarming spike’ in the number of children who are hospitalized.
The surge comes as the omicron variant spreads through the region. Dr. Garza was joined by colleagues from other task force hospitals to show the strain it is putting on their facilities.
Dr. Clay Dunagan with BJC Hospital says there are a number of healthcare workers who are unable to work because they have tested positive.
“We’re trying to mobilize, really we’re cannibalizing our workforce to cover. There’s not an endless supply of people who can parachute in and help out,” said Dr. Garza.
He explained that means the hospitals may actually have to decrease available beds at a time when they need them the most because there is no one to staff them.
“The crush is happening in our community. The inn is full there’s no safe havens,” said Dr. Dunagan.
Dr. Dunagan explained no one is admitted to the hospital right away after getting COVID. He said the people they are seeing now were probably infected a week or more ago. He fears the numbers will go up in the future.
“We’re at a pivotal moment,” said Dr. Dunnagan. “We’re quickly running out of options.”
Dr. Garza said that in order to take care of COVID patients, they are being forced to stop other vital health care services. He says that this surge of COVID will result in more heart attacks, more strokes, and more cancer cases that could have been treated early or even prevented.
Dr. Dunagan said one significant challenge right now is also the lack of the state’s public health emergency declaration.
He said that before the governor allowed it to expire the emergency designation gave health systems additional tools like increased telehealth utilization, the ability to exceed bed capacity when needed, and the opportunity to utilize the National Guard.
The task force is made up locally of the SSM, BJC, Mercy, and St. Luke’s health care systems.