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'We are capacity now': Task force says St. Louis hospitals will start sending patients to out-of-area facilities

Officials are in touch with hospitals from St. Louis to Chicago, and they will now have to send St. Louis-area patients to facilities that have space

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Metropolitan Task Force head Dr. Alex Garza had a grim message after touring area hospitals on the busiest travel day of 2020 so far: "We are at capacity now."

Garza said that in one hospital, there was one bed for three waiting patients. He expects the Thanksgiving holiday -- which traditionally comes with extended-family gatherings, travel, and shopping sprees -- will increase local coronavirus cases.

"Many of us have not seen our family in months, and we need that time together. But we are in a pandemic," Garza said. "The best way to show your family and your friends that you care about them is to keep them safe and separated."

Garza said emergency management officials are in touch with hospitals from St. Louis to Chicago, and they will now have to send St. Louis-area patients to facilities that have space. That means you or a loved one could end up in Hannibal or Quincy, Illinois.

Other hospitals have set up tents to hold the people trying to check-in.

Staff members are now in the position of hard choices. Garza said they must determine which patients are in the highest need of an ICU bed, who can be taken cycled into a less critical unit, and who is so close to death that they will not be there long.

RELATED: Exclusive: Inside Mercy Hospital's COVID-19 ICU

During a presentation on the latest numbers, Garza said 895 COVID-positive patients are currently hospitalized in task force facilities, well above the spring peak of about 600.

"The choices that we are making today, and over the long weekend are going to impact how many people are hospitalized between now and Christmas and how many people are going to die," Garza said.

Garza said he is encouraged by the different counties to adopt mask mandates. Franklin and Boone Counties recently adopted mandates, and the Jefferson County health department voted 3-2 to issue one late Wednesday. But Garza says it is critical that people buy into the mandates and use masks to affect any numbers.