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Some elective surgeries suspended; state hospital group calls for statewide mask mandate amid rising COVID-19 cases

Some elective surgeries suspended; state hospital group calls for statewide mask mandate amid rising COVID-19 cases

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ST. LOUIS — Some elective surgeries and procedures are on hold starting Monday at BJC hospitals to save space for COVID-19 patients, hospital officials said Sunday.

“We must take this drastic measure both to increase our hospital capacity and ensure we have the staff available to continue providing exceptional care for our patients,” BJC HealthCare President Richard Liekweg and Washington University Physicians CEO Dr. Paul Scheel Jr. said in a joint statement. “We made this decision in an effort to support our team members as best we can.”

The leaders also urged people to wear masks, wash hands frequently, practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings.

The suspension of elective procedures follows calls from St. Louis-area medical leaders for Gov. Mike Parson’s administration to take action before the coronavirus pandemic overloads hospitals across the region.

“The wolf is at the door,” Herb Kuhn, president and CEO of the Missouri Hospital Association, told Parson in a letter dated Friday. “Missouri’s hospitals urge you to issue a statewide masking mandate. A mask mandate may be unappealing to some, but it has become necessary. We urge your immediate action on this issue.”

Parson has responded to calls for a mask mandate by urging Missourians to “take personal responsibility” to social distance, wear masks and limit gatherings. He has steered clear of a mandate, and according to his spokeswoman, “has been very clear and consistent about his support for local control.”

Parson said at a press conference last week that all Missourians should do their part to stem the spread of the coronavirus through social distancing but without a mandate.

“The reality of it is, we can’t keep going at the pace we’re going and keep doing the same old things we’re doing,” Parson said. “I protected freedom throughout this year. I protected it in my campaign, and the majority of people believed in what I was saying, but I’m here to tell you this to all of my Missourians, it’s time we’ve got to step up. We’ve got to do our part to protect one another.”

He said he has explained multiple times that orders to wear masks should be made by local government, not the state.

“If you just start letting one person dictate across the state of Missouri for one particular issue,” Parson said, “today it may be an issue you like but it may not be someday. And that’s why I think it’s very important as the role as governor, that you have to take a balanced approach.”

Restrictions in St. Louis County will start Tuesday including closing the interiors of bars and restaurants, asking residents to limit gatherings to 10, and ordering people to leave home only for work, school, exercise, medical care, worship or essential supplies.

Meanwhile, Missouri, Illinois and the St. Louis region have broken daily records of positive cases. On Sunday, Missouri reported 3,659 new cases, down from 6,346 new coronavirus cases reported Saturday. That was after the state on Friday exceeded 4,000 new infections for the fourth straight day, and six of the last seven.

In the city of St. Louis, where health officials enacted an order on Saturday prohibiting private gatherings of more than 10 people, there have so far been 10,713 cases and 223 associated deaths.

Illinois has had a mask mandate for months. On Sunday, the state reported more than 10,600 new cases; on Friday, Illinois broke the record for new daily cases, with 15,415. Saturday’s total was 11,028.

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