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St. Louis Hospitals Allow Visitors After Months Of Coronavirus Restrictions

Signs at the Barnes-Jewish Center for Advanced Medicine alert patients to disclose if they think they may have symptoms of the novel coronavirus.
File | Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio
Signs at the Barnes-Jewish Center for Advanced Medicine warn visitors of the threat of the coronavirus in February. A month later, health systems in St. Louis barred visitors from hospitals.

Hospitals in St. Louis are again allowing people to visit patients after months of restrictions aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus.

SSM Health, Mercy, BJC HealthCare and St. Luke’s hospitals are now allowing one visitor per day for most patients. Patients who are being treated for COVID-19 or may have the disease are still not allowed to have visitors in most cases.

The coronavirus has slowed in the community, and the risk to patients and visitors is lower, said Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

Hospitals need to remain vigilant in controlling the virus’ spread, Garza said, “but we do recognize the healing power that visitors bring to the hospital as well.”

The key is balancing the need for safe social distancing with patients’ need for human connection, said Dr. Hilary Babcock, an infectious disease specialist at BJC.

“It’s a hardship for patients to have to be in the hospital without having family and loved ones to come to visit them and see them, and it’s a hardship for families not to see their loved ones,” she said.

Hospitals workers for months have been helping patients stay in touch with loved ones by using video chats and phone calls. Relying on virtual discussions means family members need to process difficult news about death or disease apart from each other, she said.

Health systems have put a variety of safety measures in place to keep patients and visitors safe. All four systems require all visitors to wear masks, maintain a six-foot distance and be screened for symptoms upon arrival. 

Most patients are allowed one visitor per day, but pediatric patients and patients giving birth at St. Luke’s, BJC and Mercy hospitals can have two visitors.

Hospital officials may be able to allow exceptions to those rules for critically ill or dying patients. 

New COVID-19 hospital admissions at the region’s four largest health systems have gone up slightly this week, according to the task force. The number of new cases is remaining steady in the region, although case counts are going up in rural Missouri.

Patients haven’t overwhelmed the region’s emergency rooms and intensive care units, Garza said, but hospitals could ramp up visitor restrictions if COVID-19 hospitalizations and case counts start going up.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

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

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.