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‘It’s going to be a new normal’ | St. Louis doctors stress importance of data-driven decisions in reopening

Wednesday's briefing came after St. Louis County and the city announced more details on plans to reopen

ST. LOUIS — As leaders in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County announce details on plans to gradually reopen local economies, leaders in the medical field applauded the community but stressed the need to continue looking at COVID-19 data.

“I’m extremely grateful for everyone in the community for coming together and slowing the spread of the virus. That absolutely saved lives,” said Dr. Alex Garza, incident commander of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

He said stay-at-home policies and social distancing measures helped reduce coronavirus cases and, likely, deaths in the area.

However, as the city and county look to begin reopening on May 18, Dr. Garza said now it is more important than ever to look at the trends and focus on the data.

“It’s even more vital that we continue to look at the data and make sure we’re going in the right direction and to reinforce all of those evidence-based practices, like washing hands, social distancing, all of those things so that it can continue to make a difference and decrease spread in the community,” he explained.

RELATED: Face masks would be required of employees, customers in St. Louis County when restrictions ease

RELATED: St. Louis, St. Louis County to begin reopening May 18

One of the key trends the task force is looking at is the reproductive factor, which looks at how much spread can occur in the community. For example, a reproductive number of five means one person who’s infected ends up spreading the virus to five others. The lower the reproductive rate in the community, the better. A number below one means the there’s no more spread occurring.

The task force believes the St. Louis area had a reproductive rate of five when the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the area. Two months later, we’re down to around one. Doctors said social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders really helped drive that number down.

“It really took us off that worst-case curve,” Dr. Garza said.

Credit: St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force

He added that the number needs to continue moving down as local communities begin reopening and loosening restrictions.

“It’s going to be a new normal,” he explained. “We still have to practice all of those really important things to keep transmission low. We don’t want the cases to ramp back up.”

As for whether it's safe for the immediate St. Louis area to reopen on May 18, Dr. Garza had a couple different responses.

"We look at the data to see are the cases are coming down? Yes, we believe that transmission is coming down. So, by that marker, I think we're on the right path."

But he said another big factor really depends on businesses and the community as a whole.

"Are the businesses really developing their plans to make for a safe environment?" he asked, referencing how grocery stores have made many changes to encourage social distancing.

"People will need to also adhere to all of those things that we've been talking about before, such as wearing a mask out in public, washing your hands frequently, not gathering in large groups. That's how you create the safe environment. It's really up to all of us, the business, the community, everybody.

Dr. Alex Garza, incident commander of the task force, gave the following update on COVID-19 patients in area hospitals, how many of them are in the intensive care unit and how many of them are on ventilators.

  • Hospitalizations: 630 patients, down 43 people from Tuesday
  • ICU: 145 patients, down 13 people from Tuesday
  • On ventilators: 118 patients, up one from Tuesday

Dr. Garza also announced 45 coronavirus patients were released from area hospitals over the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 1,508 COVID-19 patients released since the first case in the St. Louis area.

In Tuesday's email update, the task force data indicated one of the key metrics used to see how COVID-19 cases are trending in the area showed a slight decrease.

The seven-day average of new patients being admitted to the hospital is gradually falling, the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force explained this week.

On April 9, the average was 59 new COVID-19 patients per day admitted to St. Louis hospitals. Nearly a month later, the average has dropped to 42, which is a decrease of one since Monday.

READ MORE: St. Louis area sees small decreases in key COVID-19 data trends

Credit: St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force

Another promising sign released by the task force doctors is the seven-day average of the total number of COVID-19 patients in area hospitals. The average decreased slightly from 670 patients Monday to 669 patients Tuesday.

“This is the lowest this figure has been since April 17,” the task force wrote in an email Tuesday afternoon.

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