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St. Louis health leaders warn COVID threatening hospital capacity

By: - October 27, 2020 10:04 am

The seven-day positive rate on PCR tests, the ones with long swabs that are sent to labs for analysis, stood at 8.8 percent on Thursday, down from a peak of 15.2 percent in early August. Hospitalizations, which exceeded 2,450 inpatients in the third week of August, were down by one-third by Thursday (image courtesy of CDC).

Leaders of the St. Louis area’s fight against COVID-19 warned Monday that hospitals are reaching capacity, doctors and support staff are worn down by overwork and harsh steps may be necessary to get control of the pandemic.

In a briefing broadcast on Facebook, Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said the average number of patients being treated for COVID-19 is at levels not seen since May and pointed to actions in Utah and El Paso, Texas, to ration care and create emergency bed space.

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

There was no indication in the Tuesday report from the Department of Health and Senior Services that the pandemic is abating in the state. The morning report showed 1,695 new cases and 28 additional deaths, with at least one new infection reported in 101 of 117 local health jurisdictions. There have been 172,717 cases of COVID-19 and 2,838 deaths in the state since the first case was reported in March.

Missouri had a peak of 1,538 hospitalized patients on Oct. 21, updated on the state dashboard showed Tuesday. The data has had problems with precision, including one hospital that incorrectly reported more than 2,800 inpatients on Oct. 23. Without that report, the 7-day average of hospitalizations in the state remains at a peak of nearly 1,475.

A Missouri Independent analysis shows that the department has reported an average of 1,870 cases per day over the past seven days. The state dashboard, which gives rolling averages on a 72-hour delay, showed that the cases-per-day on Saturday was 1,681, up 96 from the day before.

There is no statewide mask mandate in Missouri, although local rules are in effect in many locations. The state has reported fewer than 1,000 cases on only four days in October, and on three of those days the state did not report at all because of data problems with the dashboard.

During his briefing, Garza said the issue is the hospitals’ capacity to care for all ill people, not just those with COVID-19.

“You see 386, that’s not too bad, what are they worried about?,” Garza said. “But remember, we treat more than just COVID patients.”

Another issue, he said, is fatigue and the number of medical personnel available to treat patients.

“We’re seeing a lot of people that are just, they don’t want to be in the fight anymore,” he said. “And you don’t have any reserves really to backfill them. That just means you’re putting it on the shoulders of the people that are there right now, and that’s completely unfair.”

There was good news for school districts seeking to control COVID-19 as they offer in-class instruction. Gov. Mike Parson on Monday tweeted that the Trump Administration has sent 1.8 million Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 point of care antigen tests that will be distributed to nearly 330 school districts across the state.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.

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