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‘We are danger-close’ | With St. Louis area hospitals near capacity, task force calls on statewide measures to slow spread of virus

A spokesperson for Gov. Mike Parson said Missourians must take "personal responsibility" as cases continue to rise

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force Friday called for three statewide measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19: a mask mandate; a statewide "safer at home" policy; and a plan to help already-exhausted health care workers. 

"The statewide mask mandate is needed to save lives across the state," Dr. Alex Garza, the head of the task force, said during a news conference.

Garza said patients from other parts of the state, where mandates are not currently in place, are coming to St. Louis area hospitals for treatment. And if the spread continues at this pace, "we could easily double the number of COVID patients in our hospitals in two weeks."

"The best time to act was yesterday, but a good time to act is now," Garza said.

He also called on the state to recommend a "safer at home" policy that would call on Missourians to stay home unless they are going to work, school or other essential activities. St. Louis County will adopt a similar measure when new COVID-19 restrictions take effect Tuesday.

In addition to running out of space in hospitals, Garza said St. Louis area hospitals will run out of staff – which could lead to more non-COVID-19-related deaths. The task force asked for emergency response officials to make plans to help find physical space and help for health care workers.

"Our health care heroes have fought valiantly day after day," he said, fighting back emotion. "We have no reserves. We have no back up that we can suddenly muster to save the day. If we stay the path we are on, even just two more weeks, we will not have the staff we need to care for patients. It’s a numbers game. We are danger-close."

Watch Friday's full briefing with Dr. Garza in the video player below:

Task force physicians said Friday they have repeatedly asked for more statewide measures, adding good public health is necessary to keep businesses open and continue economic recovery. 

"We will be judged on the things that we do and we don't do after this is over," Garza said, noting the historical nature of the pandemic.

However, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has repeatedly said, since the onset of the pandemic, that he will not implement a statewide mask mandate. He has said he wants local officials to make those decisions and Missourians to take personal responsibility. 

"I mean, the vast majority of people in this state are under a mandate across the State of Missouri, whether you're St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia, Springfield, where the main populations are in a lot of towns," Parson said during a news conference Thursday. "A lot of cities are, a lot of counties are. I mean, so to kind of to make the assumption that there's not a mask mandate, there most certainly is in the state of Missouri ... I don't know how many times at press conferences, you know, it's up to the local levels to be able to do that. I mean, that's why you have elections."

After the task force's asked for statewide help Friday, 5 On Your Side's Casey Nolen contacted Gov. Parson's office for comment. Parson's spokesperson Kelli Jones sent the following statement:

"Governor Mike Parson has led with a balanced approach since day one of this pandemic and will continue to do so. He and his administration monitor data and work closely with the Missouri Hospital Association and our panel of infectious disease doctors to monitor the statewide health care system and capacity. Our entire administration is here to support our health care workers and health care delivery system. Missouri’s COVID-19 numbers are up and continue to increase. It is imperative that Missourians take personal responsibility and social distance, wear a mask, practice personal hygiene, and limit their gatherings.

"Governor Parson has been very clear and consistent about his support for local control. Every individual MUST take action to minimize the spread of COVID-19.”

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The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reported a cumulative total of 229,376 cases Friday morning and 3,359 deaths – an increase of 4,005 cases and 20 deaths since Thursday. 

Friday marked the fourth day in a row the state has reported more than 4,000 new cases. Missouri reported 4,603 cases Thursday, which was a record number of new single-day COVID-19 cases.

The previous one-day high was reached on Nov. 7 when the state reported 4,559 new cases.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported more record-breaking hospital statistics. The following data are the combined figures from the four major health systems (BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health, St. Luke’s Hospital) that are part of the task force for Nov. 13:

  • New hospital admissions (data lagged two days) increased – from 109 yesterday to 125 today, a new record.
  • The seven-day moving average of hospital admissions (data lagged two days) increased from 101 yesterday to 105 today, a new seven-day moving average record.
  • The seven-day moving average of hospitalizations increased – from 599 yesterday to 628 today, a new seven-day moving average record.
  •  Inpatient confirmed COVID positive hospitalizations increased – from 681 yesterday to 719 today, a new record.
  • Inpatient suspected COVID positive hospitalizations decreased – from 165 yesterday to 149 today.
  • The number of confirmed COVID positive patients in the ICUs increased – from 139 yesterday to 140 today.
  • The number of confirmed COVID positive patients on ventilators decreased – from 84 yesterday to 82 today.
  • Across the system hospitals, 116 COVID-19 patients were discharged yesterday, bringing the cumulative number of COVID-19 patients discharged to 8,819.

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RELATED: Missouri changes school quarantine guidance as long as masks are worn

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