St. Louis’ healthcare systems are still seeing “troubling” numbers of new hospital COVID patients.
“We have too much virus spreading in the community,” said Dr. Alex Garza, incident commander for the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, in his August 5 briefing. “We are far from out of the woods. There is a lot on the line here, but it’s not going to slow down until everyone steps up and does the right thing.”
On August 4, the task force reported 55 new hospital admissions in a single day. Since August 2, the seven-day average of new hospital admissions has remained above 40 — and today was 44 — which is well into the task force’s “red zone.”
“That’s when we start to become really concerned with the number of people coming into our hospitals,” Garza said.
For context, the seven-day average was 21 on July 8.
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.
One big challenge in responding to the spike in cases and hospital admissions is that the region has become “saturated” with the virus, Garza said. About 40 percent of people are asymptomatic with COVID-19 and are walking around right now without a test, he said.
“That means that the benefit that we get from identifying positives from testing, from doing contact tracing and doing quarantining is limited now,” Garza said. “We are not able to do that effectively. What does this mean for us? It means it’s even more important now for everyone to practice wearing a mask, not gathering in large groups, all of those things.”
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page has restricted gatherings to no more than 50 people, mandated that bars close at 10 p.m., and rolled back business occupancy to 25 percent — all which went into effect on Friday, July 31. However, other regional leaders on the Missouri side — including Mayor Lyda Krewson — have not followed Page’s lead. Krewson and Page mandated wearing face masks indoors on July 3, but surrounding Missouri counties have not done that. Illinois has required face masks since May 1.
However, that alone has not been enough to decrease the spread of the virus in parts of Illinois. On July 15, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker released a mitigation plan that includes closing indoor service at restaurants and bars in areas with testing positivity rates above 8 percent. On Aug. 4, Garza reported that the region’s positivity rate is 11.1 percent. The City of St. Louis is at 9.3 percent, as of July 19.
“The key is to get the cases down so we can do effective testing and tracing,” Garza said. “Otherwise, we are just going to keep chasing this thing over time.”
Task force reported data
On Aug. 5, Garza reported that new hospital admissions (data lagged two days) decreased from 55 yesterday to 39 today. Inpatient confirmed COVID positive hospitalizations decreased from 286 yesterday to 284 today. Inpatient suspected COVID positive hospitalizations decreased from 178 yesterday to 133 today.
However, if we are looking at the overall trend, the seven-day moving average of hospitalizations increased from 258 yesterday to 263 today.
The number of confirmed COVID positive patients in the ICUs decreased from 70 yesterday to 69 today. The number of confirmed COVID positive patients on ventilators increased from 34 yesterday to 35 today.
Across the system hospitals, 40 COVID-19 patients were discharged yesterday, bringing the cumulative number of COVID-19 patients discharged to 4,063.
(The task force also reported that a delay in testing results for both August 2 and August 3 has changed some of the hospital admissions data and rolling seven-day averages. The changes include: August 2 the new admissions was 38, making the seven-day rolling average 41. On August 3, new admissions was 37 making the seven-day rolling average 43. On August 4, new admissions stayed the same at 55 but that moved the rolling seven-day average to 45.)