ST. LOUIS — "How many COVID-19 patients have been released from St. Louis area hospitals?"
That’s a question 5 On Your Side has been getting asked more in the past few days – and something we’ve in turn been asking healthcare officials. And on Wednesday, the head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force gave us our first firm answer to that question.
More than 40 COVID-19 patients were released from St. Louis’ biggest hospitals on Tuesday alone.
“That’s a great sight for all of us in healthcare to see patients improve, leave the intensive care unit and go home,” said Dr. Alex Garza, head of the pandemic task force.
The task force includes representatives from BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke's Hospital. Dr. Garza said they plan to continue gathering data on patients who’ve recovered from the coronavirus and have been sent home.
From Tuesday to Wednesday, there was little to no change in the number of patients who are in the hospital, in the ICU or on a ventilator because of the virus. Still, Dr. Garza emphasized the importance of paying more attention to the bigger picture and trends rather than the day-to-day changes.
He also said to remember these aren’t just numbers, they’re people.
“These are our friends, these are our families, these are our loved ones. So, even though we fixate on the numbers, we must be continually reminded that these are people we’re talking about and not just numbers,” Dr. Garza said.
The head of the task force also addressed another common question we hear at 5 On Your Side, and something you’ve probably wondered as well: How long will social distancing last?
“The short answer is, I don’t know. The longer answer is, we have to be really careful when talking about relaxing social distancing rules,” Dr. Garza said, referencing St. Louis’ own history during the 1918 influenza pandemic. “Even though we had blunted the initial curve, and were well known for that, then when we started relaxing social distancing rules we had a second wave that was actually worse than our initial wave,” he explained.
The task force is continuing to look at data on when the St. Louis area could possibly begin relaxing the stay-at-home orders and social distancing rules. But before moving forward with that, they also want to know what they’ll need to look for in case the rules need to be tightened again.
“We want to be able to loosen those social restrictions; we want society to get back to normal, but we don’t want it to be at the price of more cases and more deaths. And so it’s this delicate dance that we play between both of those competing priorities,” Dr. Garza explained.