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COVID-19 Hospitalizations Expected To Peak In St. Louis Late Next Week

The emergency department at SSM Health St. Mary's in Clayton is one of several facilities in St. Louis County that County Executive Sam Page would like to have report non-fatal overdoses to the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force predicts coronavirus hospitalizations will peak in late April.

St. Louis hospitals have more than a week before they experience the peak number of patients sick from COVID-19, officials representing the region’s largest health systems said. 

Hospitals will see the most strain on their resources around April 25, said Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. The need for intensive care unit beds will peak a few days earlier. 

Garza estimates 71,000 people in the St. Louis region will have been infected with COVID-19 the end of the month. That's several thousand less than officials anticipated earlier.

“Forecasting for pandemics is a lot like forecasting for hurricanes,” Garza said. “We have good information on where the hurricane is and where the pandemic is, but as we go farther out into the future it becomes much more uncertain on where it’s going to land.”

Modeling using local data from previous weeks indicates that in the best-case scenario, nearly 700 patients will need hospitalization at the peak, with as many as 180 patients in intensive care units, Garza said Wednesday. In the worst-case scenario, nearly 1,500 patients will need hospitalization, with around 360 in intensive care units.

As of Wednesday, actual numbers were tracking slightly above the projections: There were 707 hospitalizations related to COVID-19 in the bi-state St. Louis area.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has increased more than 50% since April 5, showing that St. Louis is “still on the steep part of the curve,” Garza said. “The surge is real, it’s continuing, and we have to do everything we can to stop the spread.”

Social distancing measures have begun to “bend the curve,” Garza said. But because the virus could take weeks to incubate and for people to show symptoms, the region is just now starting to see those efforts pay off.

“You’ll see a deviation in the curve, where it goes from worst case to most likely,” he said. “That is the result of all those things we put in place earlier.”

In California, the number of new COVID-19 cases reported daily has started to show that the spread of the virus is decreasing. Because Missouri is in the middle of the country and has less international travel, the coronavirus will peak here later, public health researchers say. That could have bought Missouri time to put stay-at-home orders in place earlier and contain the virus. 

“We have very fortunately not seen the levels of exceeding the capacity that we have seen in some places like New York City and Italy, and again, it’s very likely a direct result of the sacrifices that St. Louisans and those in the region have been making,” said Dr. Steven Lawrence, an infectious disease expert at Washington University. “The social distancing that has led to so much disruption and sacrifice is making a difference.”

On Wednesday, the Missouri National Guard and other state agencies opened a refurbished hotel in Florissant that could house an overflow of coronavirus patients with mild or no symptoms, to relieve strain on hospitals should they become overburdened with people.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @Petit_Smudge

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Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.