ST. LOUIS — One of the leading doctors on the White House Coronavirus Task Force warned state and local leaders on a private phone call that 11 cities, including St. Louis needed to take "aggressive" steps to limit the virus' spread, a report said.
According to a report from the Center for Public Integrity, Dr. Deborah Birx, a leader of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, identified St. Louis along with Baltimore, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Miami, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans and Pittsburgh as cities needing to get outbreaks under control.
The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom based in Washington D.C., obtained a recording of the private phone call on which Dr. Birx warned of the spread of the virus.
“What started out very much as a southern and western epidemic is starting to move up the East Coast into Tennessee, Arkansas, up into Missouri, up across Colorado, and obviously we’re talking about increases now in Baltimore,” she said. “So this is really critical that everybody is following this and making sure they’re being aggressive about mitigation efforts.”
In the phone call, Dr. Birx said local health departments should be monitoring positivity rate closely.
“When you first see that increase in test positivity, that is when to start the mitigation efforts,” she said in a recording obtained by Public Integrity. “I know it may look small and you may say, ‘That only went from 5 to 5-and-a-half [percent], and we’re gonna wait and see what happens.’ If you wait another three or four or even five days, you’ll start to see a dramatic increase in cases.”
According to analysis from the St. Louis County Health Department, the positivity rate between June 28 and July 4 was 6.2 percent. The report said that was up from the four percent plateau the County experienced through most of June.
The St. Louis Department of Health reported an increase in the seven-day positivity rate average in the city over that same period of time, from 6.5% on June 28 to 8.3% on July 4. The city's health department considers the positivity rate average preliminary for 14 days to ensure all results from a certain day are counted. The department reported a seven-day average positivity rate for the most recent, July 7, of 8.5%.
A spokesperson for St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said she was not aware of the call, and she and Acting Health Director Dr. Fredrick Echols were not on it. Dr. Echols provided the following statement:
“The City of St. Louis is closely monitoring the data and is working with regional hospitals and health departments to ensure implementation of appropriate mitigation measures. However, we still need the community to do its part and implement the prevention measures we talk about daily. Wearing a mask. Washing hands. Watching distance among others. We don’t want to have to reinstate additional restrictions but it’s not out of the question to prevent additional COVID-19 related cases and deaths.”
A spokesman for St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said no one from his office was on the call.
5 On Your Side has reached out to Missouri Governor Mike Parson to see if he was on the call. This story will be updated with his responses.
Earlier in the day, both Missouri and St. Louis County reported single-day records for new cases of COVID-19.
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The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reported a total of 36,063 cases, an increase of 1,301 cases in the last 24 hours. The single-day increase broke the record of 1,138 set Tuesday and was 46% higher than the increase last Wednesday.
St. Louis County also reported a record number of new cases Wednesday. The county reported 263 new cases, bringing the total to 9,624. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reported 619 COVID-19 deaths in the county, a single-day increase of nine deaths.