An emotional plea: St. Louis area hospitals at or near capacity treating COVID patients

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ST. LOUIS – An emotional plea Monday from people on the front lines of the region’s fight against the coronavirus and from those who lost a loved one. They said if we don’t act now, things are looking bleak not too far down the road.

Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said that area hospitals are at or near capacity in taking care of COVID-19 patients.

Garza said the region has seen 353 hospital admissions in the latest 7-day average and it hasn’t been that high since May.

“If we continue down the path we’re on right now, if we don’t start listening to science and wear masks and stop gathering in large crowds, things could potentially get much worse,” he said.

Garza usually talks pandemic numbers during the task force briefings. On Monday, he also spoke about the toll taken on doctors, nurses, and victims; he had to fight back tears at one point.

“I’ve always told my team … these numbers represent people,” he said.

Dr. Aamina Akhtar, an infectious disease expert from Mercy Hospital South, said elective surgeries may have to be postponed.

“I think we think about it every day,” she said. 

And it may get even worse.

“The fear is we’ll be to a point where we will have patients lined up outside our ERs or in our hospital, where they’re not getting the treatment we want to give them,” she said. 

Folks on the frontlines are worn down. Some are giving up the fight.

“We lost track of taking care of ourselves,” said nurse Charles Johnson. “There’s a lot of burnout, a lot of frustrated people; anxiety about the COVID.” 

Restauranteur Gerard Craft conservatively predicted 40 percent of all restaurants will close down for good. Craft owns seven; he said Taste will never open again, jobs will be lost, and related business will fold.

“This mask will protect the economy more than the vaccine,” Craft said. 

The four major health systems (BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health, St. Luke’s Hospital), provided new COVID data from Oct. 25 to Oct. 26:

  • New hospital admissions decreased from 52 to 46.
  • The seven-day moving average of hospital admissions (data lagged two days) increased from 51 to 52.
  • The seven-day moving average of hospitalizations increased from 353 to 360.
  • Inpatient confirmed COVID positive hospitalizations increased from 346 to 386.
  • Inpatient suspected COVID positive hospitalizations decreased from 86 to 72.
  • The number of confirmed COVID positive patients in the ICUs decreased from 101 to 98.
  • The number of confirmed COVID positive patients on ventilators increased from 49 to 50.
  • Across the system hospitals, 24 COVID-19 patients were discharged Oct. 25, bringing the cumulative number of COVID-19 patients discharged to 7,474.

Garza said some hospitals are at 90 percent capacity while others have even higher capacity, taking care of COVID patients and patients from the general population.

The task force chief fears hospital admissions will go up with flu season coming.

During Monday’s briefing, Garza was joined by Jennifer Duffey, who lost her 72-year-old mother to COVID in September.

Duffey, who was joined at the podium by her daughter, said her mother careful but still got sick.

“In 14 days, she went from being perfectly healthy to gone. We weren’t able to be with her, she fought for four days in ICU and I think all the nurses were the family for her because we could not be,” Duffey said.

“Some people are so stubborn, so selfish, I wonder if it only makes sense to them if was their own mother being buried.” 

While the White House chief of staff announced over the weekend that the country “is not going to control the pandemic” and will instead focus on vaccine development, Dr. Garza said things can be controlled if people take politics out of the issue and concentrate on the protocols of mask-wearing, handwashing, and avoiding large crowds.

“It doesn’t have to be this hard,” Garza said. “It’s as simple as doing the right thing for your community.” 

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