St. Louis on other side of “gentle hill” COVID-19 curve

The St. Louis region is just on the other side of the “gentle hill” that Dr. Alex Garza, incident commander for the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, has been anticipating for weeks. 

When the region was anticipating its “peak” in the COVID-19 outbreak at the end of April, Garza repeatedly explained that the curve in data will look more like a “crest of a gentle hill” rather than a sharp peak of a mountain.

On May 13, Garza presented a model of hospital inpatient numbers since mid-March that shows the start of a downward trend. The model represents hospital patients who tested positive for COVID-19 within the task force’s hospital systems: BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital. 

However, Garza said, residents can’t stop taking precautionary measures when stay-at-home orders are lifted on May 18 in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County. 

“The trends are still heading in the right direction,” said Garza, who is also chief medical officer of SSM Health. “We have to keep doing what we’re doing, even as we begin to relax some of those rules.”

Garza reported on May 13 that there are 513 people currently in the hospital who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or are awaiting test results. The number of patients in the intensive care units is 125, and the number of people on ventilators is 93. 

The seven-day moving average of the total number of COVID-19 patients in the hospitals is a good indicator of transmission in the region, he said. It was 526 on May 13.

“As this number continues to come down, it helps us be confident that the steps we’re taking are working,” Garza has said, “and the hospital systems are going to be ready and able to take care of COVID patients without becoming overwhelmed.”

Another important data point is the seven-day “moving average” of new hospital admissions, which is an even more timely data trend than the hospitalization average, Garza said. That average was 27 on Wednesday, he said, and has seen a steady decline with a “few upticks” since early April. 

“While we are always concerned about any upticks in cases, we really want to focus on the trends,” he said. 

Across the system hospitals, 34 COVID-19 patients were discharged yesterday, bringing the cumulative number of patients discharged to 1,745.  


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