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As virus admissions rise, few options left 'short of a complete shutdown,' task force head warns

As virus admissions rise, few options left 'short of a complete shutdown,' task force head warns

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UPDATED at 7:15 p.m. Saturday with details, comments from the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

ST. LOUIS — Dr. Alex Garza began his briefing on Friday with “sobering” news that St. Louis-area hospitals had recorded 46 admissions for COVID-19 that day, pushing the seven-day average to 39.

Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said it was a “very high number … we haven’t seen for a couple of months.” If the average were to hit 40, he said, it could be time to consider “other things we can do” to stop the virus.

If Friday’s data was sobering, Saturday’s was troubling.

The task force reported 56 new admissions for COVID-19 on Saturday, pushing the seven-day average to 41. Saturday also marked the first time since May 2 — and the second time since April 18 — that more than 50 patients were admitted in a single day with COVID-19.

St. Louis County has already started ramping up restrictions after an increase in positive cases in recent weeks. On Thursday, the health department recommended schools rely on remote learning this fall, and on Friday a series of new restrictions on occupancy rules and business hours went into effect.

Garza said in a statement on Saturday that the task force was “working to learn more about today’s data” and was more concerned about trends than a one-day spike. He said it would be premature to start talking about more restrictions until the task force had two weeks to observe the impact of the most recent restrictions.

But he said, “We are running out of levers to pull, short of a complete shutdown.”

He said the task force was also trying to understand the impact of masking orders in St. Louis and St. Louis County but said the results would be uneven because of the lack of a regional masking policy.

‘Concerning and frustrating’

Doug Moore, a spokesman for County Executive Sam Page, said Saturday’s hospitalization numbers were “concerning and frustrating.” Asked whether they could result in further restrictions, Moore said county officials “continue to watch the numbers.”

“It demonstrates that there is not universal mask wearing or social distancing acceptance,” Moore said in a text. “Unless everyone steps up and acts responsibly, the numbers will continue to rise. We cannot wish this away.”

A spokesman for St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson could not be reached on Saturday.

The task force, which represents the four major health systems in the region, also reported the number of patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose from 248 to 252, and the number of patients suspected of having the disease rose from 106 to 115. The number of patients in the ICU increased to 67, from 63, and there were three more patients placed on ventilators, for a total of 32.

Saturday was the first full day under stricter occupancy limits in St. Louis County intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Businesses were limited to admitting customers up to 25% of their occupancy limits, crowds were restricted to 50 people and bars required to close at 10 p.m.

In Brentwood on Saturday afternoon, during a break between rain showers, there were five people waiting to get into the Nordstrom Rack store and 18 waiting in front of REI, the outdoor retailer. There was no line at Target, but more than two dozen people lined up in front of Trader Joe’s.

An employee of the Cirque Italia Water Circus, which has set up in a parking lot at the Galleria mall, said that whole rows were being left empty in the large tent, and three rows between parties. All patrons were required to wear masks and the circus recommended gloves.

At Montrey’s Cigar Lounge in Ferguson, manager Jessica Richardson said that enforcing the county’s new 10 p.m. curfew for bars was not difficult Friday, the first night it went into effect.

She said she set last call at 9:15 p.m. Everyone was out at 9:50 p.m., she said.

“A lot of people understand that this is what has to happen so we don’t shut down,” she said.

Missouri, Illinois totals

Missouri reported 935 new cases of COVID-19 Saturday and 10 deaths, bringing the totals in the state to 51,258 cases and 1,253 deaths.

State officials had reported a large jump in confirmed cases on Tuesday with an increase of more than 1,700, which was a single-day record. That number rose to more than 1,900 cases on Wednesday and in excess of 2,000 on Thursday. That number dropped by more than 500 cases on Friday before dropping again Saturday.

Illinois officials on Saturday reported 1,639 new cases for a total of 180,476 and 7,503 deaths.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has repeatedly expressed concern about increases in Metro East communities, citing their proximity to areas in Missouri with less stringent health rules.

Health officials say that although the cases are increasing, the disease has not been as serious because treatments are improving and younger patients, who are not as likely to end up in the hospital, are making up the largest portion of those recently infected.

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