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‘We've Erased Every Bit Of Progress': Coronavirus Admissions Spike In St. Louis

A hospital employee works in the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Intensive Care Unit in April. The hospital has resumed scheduling elective procedures.
Erin Jones | Barnes-Jewish Hospital
An employee works in the Barnes-Jewish Hospital intensive care unit in April.

The region’s hospitals could soon be overwhelmed with patients as more people are admitted with the coronavirus, health officials said Monday.

An average of 342 patients with confirmed coronavirus cases are in hospitals in the region’s four largest health care systems each day, and nearly 50 people with the virus are being admitted daily, said Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, which represents the region’s largest hospital systems.

Admissions have only reached those numbers a few times since the beginning of the pandemic, Garza said.

The numbers are a departure from promising downward trends seen at the end of summer.

“Unfortunately, we have erased every bit of progress we’ve made this summer and fall,” Garza said during the task force’s live streamed update on Monday.

The colder weather, the flu season and increased transmission in rural areas are putting a strain on hospitals and health care workers, Garza said.

His message was clear: The region is on a troubling trajectory, and if the public does nothing to stop the spread, health systems won’t have room to treat every patient who needs help.

“I can’t stress enough the times we’re finding ourselves in. … We have to do everything we can to turn these numbers around,” Garza said. “We can’t sustain this kind of growth in cases and admissions, it will simply overwhelm the health care systems.”

The average number of daily coronavirus cases recorded in the bistate St. Louis region has increased nearly 35% in the past week,according to data compiled by St. Louis Public Radio.

Hospitals across the state are feeling the strain, Garza said. The number of people with the coronavirus hospitalized in the state hit record highs last week as inpatient counts climbed above 1,400. According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, 42% of the state’s hospital beds are available as of Friday. Health systems already are dealing with the increased hospitalizations that come with flu season, Garza said. There’s not a lot of room to spare.

One good piece of news: The number of patients on ventilators is staying relatively flat, he said.

Officials at BJC Health, SSM and Mercy have said they’re monitoring hospital admissions. Garza said hospitals may need to suspend elective surgeries as they did earlier this yearto make room for coronavirus patients.

Health officials are strongly urging the public to wear masks, avoid gatherings and wash their hands to keep transmission down and hospitals below capacity limits.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @Petit_Smudge

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