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Doctors Say Masks Needed Across St. Louis Region, As Restrictions Might Not Be Enough

More than 1,000 people in the bi-state St. Louis region and nearly that many across Missouri have died of COVID-19 as of this week. 061920
Kristen Radtke
/
NPR
St. Louis-area health officials push that universal masking is critical to reduce the spread of the coronavirus after doctors said hospitals are nearing capacity.

People across the entire St. Louis region must wear masks to keep the coronavirus from spreading, the head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force said Wednesday.

Dr. Alex Garza said people in St. Louis and St. Louis County should comply with orders to wear masks in public. But he said other communities should implement similar policies or at least encourage people to wear masks to keep everyone healthy.

“I don't just mean city, county, I mean, for the entire region,” Garza said of the need to wear masks. “That's where we’re seeing most of the growth is in the outlying areas. There really has to be [masks] adopted by the entire regional community.”

During a task force meeting earlier this week, Garza and other doctors warned that the region’s hospitals will soon reach their capacity to care for coronavirus patients. Garza also warned that hospitals lack the personnel to continue to care for and treat the rising number of coronavirus patients.

While again closing bars and restaurants could slow the spread of the virus, it might not stop it, Garza said. That’s why widespread mask use and social distancing are the most effective options, he said.

“Even if we did shut down restaurants and bars, I don't know how much of an impact that would have on transmission, because there is so much now out in the community,” Garza said. “I'm sure we would have some, but how much in order to really turn or bend the curve? I'm not sure that that would be able to accomplish that.”

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said they’re continuing to monitor COVID-19 cases.

Krewson said that the rising numbers in the hospital system are worrisome, especially if there’s a shortage of hospital staff to treat patients.

“They do have enough beds right now, but they’re worried about their capacity, not just in beds though, they’re worried about the workforce,” she said during a press conference. “That workforce is tired, they’re frustrated, they’re burning out.”

Page said officials are monitoring the number of intensive care beds in the hospital system, especially if coronavirus patients exceed 20% of intensive care bed capacity.

“It doesn't matter how many rooms you have in your hospital if you can't find nurses and doctors to take care of the patient, and we really are burning out our doctors and nurses right now,” he said.

Page said the county will continue to urge people to wear masks and keep their distance from others.

Krewson said she doesn’t see the need to lift the 11 p.m. closing time for restaurants and bars. She said local officials are discussing if further strategies are needed, but it would be difficult to do so, as many positive cases result from small gatherings.

“Nobody wants to put additional restrictions on if it can be helped. We’re asking people to modify their own personal behavior,” Krewson said. “What restriction could we put in place that would prevent people from getting together, with their neighbors, their small group of friends or their families? There aren’t any.”

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

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