Masks protect the community

Wear a mask.

Dr. Alex Garza, incident commander for the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said it in every way he knew how, during his August 7 briefing.

Garza showed studies where mask wearers reduced their risk of catching the virus by 65 percent. If everyone wore a mask, he said we could save 75,000 lives by December, citing the World Health Organization.

You like sports? Garza showed a video of the Blues Hockey team saying, “Please help us stay on the ice. This mask wins games (hockey mask), this mask saves lives (surgical mask.)” 

“We won’t see a consistent improvement until the entire region has really embraced all of those tools, such as universal mask wearing and stop gathering in large crowds,” Garza said. “It’s more important than ever to work together.”

So far, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and the St. Louis City Mayor Lyda Krewson are the only regional leaders on the Missouri side that have issued masks mandates, which went into effect on July 3. Illinois has had a statewide mask mandate since May 1. However, Page is the only local leader who has restricted the size of gatherings, which is no more than 50 people in the county.

Mask wearing is especially important because our other tools for stopping the spread — such as testing and contact tracing — have essentially become ineffective due to the increase in COVID-19 cases, Garza said. The delay in test results, in particular, has made it extremely difficult for public health departments to trace back where the spread is occurring through contact tracing, he said. 

“If you think about this, contact tracing is really at its limit because we have so many cases and because there are so many people to go out and find,” Garza said.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 40 percent of COVID patients are now asymptomatic, which also makes mask wearing important, Garza said.

A recent study out of St. Louis University compared local mask ordinances and their impact on zip codes and COVID-19 in St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles from July 14 to 28. On average, the rate of cases in zip codes with a mask ordinance was significantly lower (32%) compared to cases within zip codes with no mask ordinance, the study found.

“I think we’ve painted a pretty compelling picture around the evidence of using masks,” Garza said. “So what does this all mean? It means if we all wear a mask, if we have really good compliance throughout the metropolitan area, it does a couple of things. It protects the community, and it gets our transmission rate down. Mandatory mask orders work in terms of bringing up compliance.”

Garza holds briefings three days a week to share the hospital data for the task force, which makes up the region’s four largest healthcare systems: SSM Health, BJC HealthCare, Mercy and St. Luke’s Hospital. These systems represent 2.8 million people for an area that includes surrounding counties in Missouri and Illinois.

On August 7, Garza reported that new hospital admissions (data lagged two days) decreased from 38 yesterday to 37 today. The seven-day moving average of hospital admissions (data lagged two days) decreased from 44 yesterday to 43 today. 

However, the seven-day moving average of hospitalizations increased - from 267 yesterday to 274 today. Inpatient confirmed COVID positive hospitalizations increased from 266 yesterday to 279 today. Inpatient suspected COVID positive hospitalizations also increased from 132 yesterday to 148 today.

The number of confirmed COVID positive patients in the ICUs increased from 70 yesterday to 71 today. The number of confirmed COVID positive patients on ventilators decreased from 39 yesterday to 37 today.

Across the system hospitals, 40 COVID-19 patients were discharged yesterday, bringing the cumulative number of COVID-19 patients discharged to 4,163.  

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