ST. LOUIS — The measures taken to help flatten the curve appear to be working in the greater St. Louis area, but now is not the time to relax social distancing measures, doctors warned.
The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force shared new insights Wednesday from the models used by the area’s four largest health care systems.
The latest data showed about 71,000 people in the Bi-state area could become infected with COVID-19 by the end of April. That’s down from 80,000 people the models showed a week ago.
“That’s a reflection of all the good things that we’ve been doing out in the community. That includes things like sheltering in place, social distancing, hand washing, keeping surfaces clean, all of those things have brought this estimate down,” said Dr. Alex Garza, who heads up the task force.
Dr. Garza previously said about 30% of those infected might not even know they have the virus and many others will have mild symptoms and won’t get tested.
Models ran by the task force hospitals predict the St. Louis area will hit a peak in hospitalizations on or around April 25, with anywhere from 600 to 700 COVID-19 patients in the hospital on that day. The peak for intensive care unit patients is slightly earlier from April 21 through April 24 with about 170 to 180 patients in the ICU.
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A graphic shared during the Wednesday afternoon briefing showed the most likely and worst case scenarios of COVID-19 cases in the St. Louis area, along with a line showing how many cases are actually reported each day.
Dr. Garza pointed out there are several days when St. Louis trended along with the worst-case scenario, but he said actions to increase social distancing literally changed the curve in the area.
“That is a result of all of those things we put in place a couple of earlier. So, it’s really important to understand the measures we put in place are having an effect. And they are known as bending the curve. That is the bend in the curve,” Dr. Garza said.
So, when can communities look at reopening?
Dr. Garza said it won’t be like flipping a light switch on but more like using a dimmer switch to slowly see how our actions are having an impact on the community.
But overall, he believes we could expect to see another month of the current social distancing measures that are in place.
“In looking at the data… I do not believe that we can even consider relaxing some of these rules until the middle of May,” Dr. Garza said.
The St. Louis area is just now starting to see the benefits of social distancing measures, the doctor stressed, adding that we can’t let up now.
“But we are still challenged with personal protective equipment, our workers are still stressed with all the cases we’re seeing,” Dr. Garza said.
He added that, again, the projections still show a peak coming to the St. Louis area in about 10 days.
“We can’t let up now.”