ST. LOUIS — On a day when people protested outside the Missouri Capitol calling for the state to reopen following coronavirus restrictions, doctors in the St. Louis area said now is not the time.
“I know we are all eager to begin to something closer to normalcy, and I feel that urgency, too,” said Dr. Alex Garza, the head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. “But for the sake of our economy and our community at large, we have to make sure we do this right. We don’t get a second chance of doing this right.”
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Based on the task force’s COVID-19 models, the St. Louis area isn’t expected to peak until Saturday. That’s when the number of people in the hospital with the virus is expected to be at its highest.
“We’re still on the rising side of this curve,” Dr. Garza emphasized during the Tuesday afternoon update.
On Monday alone, the number of people admitted to the hospital with the coronavirus jumped by about 100 patients. It was one of the sharpest one-day increases since the task force began giving updates on April 6. Since that day, the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 is up 60%.
As a doctor, father and someone invested in the St. Louis community, Dr. Garza said he understands the desire and importance of getting people back to work, school, church and all the other places and events we miss.
“What we’re doing now is really, really hard,” he said. “As healthcare professionals, we take it very seriously the profound psychological and economic impacts of this virus. It is not lost on us at all.”
Still, he warned with the St. Louis area that being on the rising side of the curve we must continue to practice the social distancing measures that are in place, otherwise there’s a risk of a second wave, which could be even more devastating than the first.
“If we rush too quickly now, too many people will become infected, get sick and die. And the science suggests eventually we’d have to do this all over again with closing significant parts of our economy and our society,” Dr. Garza said. “The pain of the last several weeks would have been lost if we move too quickly too soon.”
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During Monday’s briefing, the doctor said one of the challenges Missouri faces before it can fully reopen is getting enough testing kits for “surveillance in the community.” He said medical professionals are fairly confident they have enough testing kits for diagnosing COVID-19 patients, but the state needs to increase the number of kits it has to track the virus in local communities.
“It’s that surveillance piece — which we need to be robust if we want to open up the economy — that we really need to bolster,” Dr. Garza said.
The latest data showed about 71,000 people in the Bi-state area could become infected with COVID-19 by the end of April. Dr. Garza previously said about 30% of those infected might not even know they have the virus and many others will have mild symptoms and won’t get tested.