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'Once-in-a-century pandemic' makes reopening St. Louis area tricky, doctors say

A balanced, thoughtful approach will be key to a safe reopening, said the head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force

ST. LOUIS — Lead doctors in the St. Louis area said leaders and residents need to move “smartly and safely in the weeks ahead” as local leaders work to reopen the economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Alex Garza, incident commander of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, warned against rushing to reopen too much too soon as the Bi-state still deals with the spread of COVID-19. He said a balanced, thoughtful approach will be key to a safe reopening.

“We all have to remember this is a once-in-a-century pandemic,” Dr. Garza said Monday. “Nobody has the exact right answer, which is what makes all of this such a wicked problem.”

RELATED: St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson says update on city's stay-at-home order will come a couple weeks

He said everyone is working together to achieve what's best for the region.

"There have been a lot of discussions among business leaders, government leaders, healthcare leaders about how fast and how much can we open up the economy, and part of it is about social distancing rules," the doctor said.

There needs to be a balance between the public health needs as well as the business and economy needs, Dr. Garza said, adding that the economy is going to look different when businesses are able to reopen their doors. Much like the changes made at grocery stores and other essential businesses, Garza said there will need to be changes made at other businesses to accommodate social distancing measures.

"Those techniques to decrease transmission are going to have to be incorporated into everybody's business, at least for the foreseeable future until we develop immunity in the population or a vaccine becomes available," Dr. Garza said.

"The virus won't just go away, so it'll be up to local leaders to develop policies on how to limit transmission."

RELATED: Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announces details on phase one of state's reopening

Initial data showed the St. Louis area would hit its COVID-19 peak on Saturday with upwards of 700 coronavirus patients in area hospitals. Dr. Garza said more data will be needed in the days and weeks ahead to see exactly when the virus hit or will hit its peak. He said the numbers will continue to change day to day.

“It’s the trend over time that truly lets us know what’s going on,” Dr. Garza said.

On Monday, there were 690 COVID-19 patients in St. Louis area hospitals, which is an increase of 38 patients over the last 24 hours.

On Saturday, Dr. Garza said the St. Louis area has made huge gains in helping slow the spread of the virus.

"Over the past several weeks, our community came together to flatten the curve and that has averted what was possibly a worst-case scenario," Garza said. “This sacrifice has saved many thousands of lives.”

Dr. Garza encouraged people to continue social distancing to slow the infection rates and allow parts of the economy to come back online.

RELATED: Gov. Pritzker stresses COVID-19 isn't just a Chicago-area problem: 'That's just not how this virus operates'

Dr. Garza said on Saturday the St. Louis area should be moving across the crest of hospitalizations. He has said that number will come down slowly, giving confidence that we can gradually and safely bring parts of the economy and society back online.

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