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St. Louis Pandemic Task Force leader helps vaccinate hospital staff on Christmas Eve

Dr. Alex Garza said he wanted to "spread a little bit of hope with our clinical teams that have been working so hard this whole year through COVID"

RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Mo. — The leader of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force visited SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital on Christmas Eve to help vaccinate staff for COVID-19.

Dr. Alex Garza is the task force's incident commander as well as the Chief Community Health Officer for SSM Health. Garza said the event was an opportunity to meet and talk with frontline workers and hopefully spread a little hope at the end of a difficult year.

"I'm an emergency physician. I've worked night shifts, holidays, weekends. I've been deployed overseas over the holidays. So these are people that are committed to the community, to each other, and to their patients," he said. "And so just being here to help them with vaccinations, it's just a small piece of what I can do to help."

"Them" being doctors, nurses and staffers, like housekeeper Darryl Ellis. 

"It was great, there was no pain or anything," Ellis said after receiving the vaccine.

Housekeepers like Ellis and doctors like Sri Patchala value getting vaccinated and know how important it is.

"Not only for me, but for the safety of the patients," explains SSM Health Rehab Dr. Patchala, "So that I don't carry from state to state, hospital to hospital." 

Dr. Patchala works in multiple hospitals in both Missouri and Illinois, seeing many patients, weekends and holidays included.

Garza said he thinks the vaccination efforts for frontline workers in the St. Louis region have been going well. The biggest challenge is the limited supply of vaccines.

"We all want more vaccine and we want it faster, but we have to deal with what we have and when we get it, and the process has been going very smoothly," he said.

More than 1 million Americans have received a coronavirus vaccine so far, and more than 9.4 million vaccinations have been shipped across the country as of Wednesday, the CDC said.

Garza added that although the vaccine is a light at the end of the tunnel, it will be some time before everyone is able to receive it, and the public should continue wearing masks and social distancing. 

There are still 850 patients in area hospitals on any given day, and on Wednesday, 130 new patients were admitted, Garza said. The St. Louis area also had a record-breaking number of COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, he said.

"I think we have to remember that it's a very long tunnel," he said. "COVID's not going to take a break over the holiday, and it's not going to take a break while we're doing vaccinations."

The following data are the combined figures from the four major health systems (BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health, St. Luke’s Hospital) that are part of the task force, for December 24.

  • New hospital admissions (data lagged two days) decreased from 131 yesterday to 82 today.
  • The seven-day moving average of hospital admissions (data lagged two days) decreased – from 117 yesterday to 111 today.
  • The seven-day moving average of hospitalizations decreased - from 867 yesterday to 858 today.
  • Inpatient confirmed COVID positive hospitalizations decreased – from 871 yesterday to 844 today.
  • Inpatient suspected COVID positive hospitalizations increased – from 75 yesterday to 85 today.
  • The number of confirmed COVID positive patients in the ICUs decreased – from 182 yesterday to 174 today.
  • The number of confirmed COVID positive patients on ventilators decreased – from 114 to 107 today.
  • The number of COVID deaths decreased – from 31 yesterday to 18 today.
  • The seven-day moving average of COVID deaths decreased – from 18 yesterday to 17 today.
  • Across the system hospitals, 145 COVID-19 patients were discharged to home yesterday, bringing the cumulative number of COVID-19 patients discharged to 13,860.
  • Today, staffed bed hospital capacity is at 79%, an average across our task force hospitals. The ICU’s are at 86% of their total staffed bed capacity