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As hospitals fill with COVID-19 patients, St. Louis County warns of shutdown if spread not slowed

As hospitals fill with COVID-19 patients, St. Louis County warns of shutdown if spread not slowed

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ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis region’s hospitals continued to see unprecedented numbers of people seriously sickened by COVID-19 on Sunday, as the virus’ rapid spread climbed to a rate unseen since a July spike.

Potential consequences were coming into view late Sunday. A source with knowledge of St. Louis County Executive Sam Page’s plans said he intends to announce Monday morning that the coming days would be the county’s last chance to turn around its rates of infection and hospitalization.

If conditions don’t improve, the county faces a shutdown in as soon as one week, he is expected to say.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force on Sunday reported the rolling seven-day average number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 to 82, a record. Average daily admissions stood at 35 about a month ago, and 78 on Saturday.

The overall number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 rose from 522 on Friday to 529 Sunday — more than double the totals from early October.

The task force data lags by two days and includes hospitals in the BJC HealthCare, Mercy and SSM Health systems plus St. Luke’s Hospital.

The hospitals report 81% capacity, an improvement from 83% capacity and 90% capacity on Friday.

But task force director Dr. Alex Garza has warned hospitals are likely to be overwhelmed if the virus continues to spread at its current rate. The hospitals are taking in COVID-19 patients from across the region, he said. He urged residents to wear masks and avoid even small informal gatherings.

“There is so much virus in the community at this point that it’s frankly, beyond frightening,” Garza said.

“There is really no safe harbor now, whether it’s rural, suburban or urban — we’re seeing admissions from all over.”

Dr. Alex Garza, while introducing a group of people who talked about their experiences with coronavirus, said: "If we continue down the path we're on right now ... things could potentially get much worse." He choked up when discussing the losses that the hospitalization numbers represent.

Page is expected to make a plea for county residents to comply with existing guidelines for social distancing and crowd size limits. He is expected to talk about a Halloween party attended by as many as 200 students from several private high schools. Five students who attended the party are said to be positive for the coronavirus, with two students experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

Page is also expected to ask county residents to avoid personal interactions, work from home and conduct business virtually. He will also ask county residents to identify groups of 10 people or fewer and limit their interactions to that group. If one member of the group becomes sick, the group should do its own contact tracing and make sure all its members quarantine and get tested.

The federal coronavirus task force on Sunday issued a report that found Missouri, as of Nov. 1, had the 10th highest rate in the country of confirmed COVID-19 infections among people tested for active infections. About 10% of people tested for COVID-19 in Missouri were confirmed as having the disease.

The report also found St. Louis County and St. Charles County were among the three counties in the state with the highest number of new cases over the three previous weeks. The third county, Jackson County, is in the Kansas City area.

Overall, 91% of Missouri counties were found to have moderate or high levels of COVID-19 transmission, officials said.

Missouri health officials on Sunday reported 4,131 people newly infected by COVID-19 in single day — a decrease from a record 4,559 new infections reported Saturday, the fourth day in a row that Missouri reported record infections.

The new infections reported Sunday brought the rolling-seven day average number of daily COVID-19 infections in Missouri to a record 3,380 a day, nearly double the average a month ago. The average of people infected daily by COVID-19 was 1,789 as of Oct. 24, the last date Missouri reported a dip in the average number of daily infections.

The recent jump is the steepest rise in COVID-19 infections since July, when back-to-back records of new COVID-19 cases took the average of daily infections from 402 on July 6 to 1,591 by July 30, a record at the time. The average then dipped before gradually rising to 1,709 on Oct. 23.

NOTE: On Saturday, April 17, 2021, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) noted on its dashboard that it discovered a database error that was causing individuals with both a positive PCR and antigen result to be counted as both a probable and confirmed case. This correction removed 11,454 cases that were counted twice in previous probable antigen cases, according the notation.

NOTE: Beginning Monday, March 8, 2021, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) began posting county-level data showing “probable” COVID-19 cases detected by antigen testing. Using historical data from the DHSS dashboard, we reconfigured this graph to include that number.

Missouri on Sunday also reported three COVID-19 deaths, bringing the state’s death toll from the virus to 3,153.

At least 209,197 people in Missouri have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Illinois on Sunday reported 10,009 new COVID-19 cases, down from a record high of 12,438 on Saturday, the fourth day in a row the state reported record daily infections. At least 487,987 people have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

The state’s rolling-seven day average of daily COVID-19 infections reached 10,101, a record. That was up from 2,180 exactly a month ago.

Illinois reported 42 deaths due to COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the state’s death toll to 10,154.

Illinois did not report hospitalization numbers Sunday. On Saturday, a record 4,303 people were newly hospitalized with COVID-19.

Jeremy Kohler of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.(tncms-asset)6e4e795a-bfb9-11ea-a705-00163ec2aa77[1](/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)382f2156-1fba-11eb-94da-00163ec2aa77[2](/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)46708e28-2058-11eb-b6f5-00163ec2aa77[3](/tncms-asset)(tncms-asset)8ea876e2-1ec3-11eb-a571-00163ec2aa77[4](/tncms-asset)

Nassim Benchaabane • 314-340-8167 @NassimBnchabane on Twitter nbenchaabane@post-dispatch.com

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Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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