St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said Wednesday he expects coronavirus cases to reach their peak in the region in late April — a surge that could overwhelm the hospital system.
Page talked to St. Louis Public Radio’s Julie O’Donoghue on the Politically Speaking podcast remotely Wednesday via Zoom phone conferencing. Below are edited excerpts from that conversation.
Julie O’Donoghue: You’ve put a “stay-at-home” order in place in St. Louis County that restricts people’s movement. Do you think there’s a reasonable chance that order will have to be extended past its original deadline of April 22?
Sam Page: Yes, there is a reasonable chance that it will have to be extended, and we will continue to make decisions with the information we have at the moment.
O’Donoghue: If you were telling people how long they should prepare to be living under the current circumstances, how long would you say?
Page: I think certainly through most of April, and then we will see how the hospital systems respond, and that will depend in large part on how the virus moves about our community.
O’Donoghue: Do you expect a surge of coronavirus cases? Is it a foregone conclusion that we are going to see a big jump?
Page: We will absolutely see a surge in infections, and our hospital systems are working very deliberately and in a very organized way to try to anticipate this and to increase their capacity in their intensive care units and their hospital beds.
So the first thing they did was try to reduce the patients that are currently in the hospital by canceling elective surgery. They’ve canceled those procedures across all systems.
They are considering options to find space in other locations that aren’t currently on their main campuses that are past the most acute phase of hospitalization but might need kind of a less intensity sort of surveillance.
O’Donoghue: Do you have more specifics about where they might go for extra capacity?
Page: Our public health department and the hospital system have all had conversations and relationships built with universities that have available dorms for people to quarantine or for people to recover post-acute hospitalization.
St. Louis County has contracts with hotels for quarantining first responders if they have been exposed, or if they have been infected, to let them recover. Also, we have contracts with hotels for homeless folks or people who don’t have a place to stay to recover from coronavirus.
I don’t think we will see what we are seeing in New York because I believe we got out ahead of this a bit, but we know that this is unpredictable, and we are going to be prepared.
O’Donoghue: Do you know when the surge in coronavirus cases might happen in St. Louis?
Page: At this point, it looks like it will be the end of April. But again, this is a prediction based on the information we have today.
O’Donoghue: How do you feel about the federal government’s response to the coronavirus so far?
Page: I think everyone recognizes that we need more aggressive intervention, and we need better access to personal protective equipment for our health care workers and our first responders. And we really need access to testing.
We are where we are right now, and we all have to work very aggressively to step up our access to testing and to personal protective equipment.
O’Donoghue: How do you feel about the way the state has responded — and Gov. Parson in particular — to the crisis so far?
Page: Well, I would like to see a statewide stay-at-home order, and I know other people are talking to the governor about that.
We certainly moved aggressively here in St. Louis County and quickly, more quickly than other parts of the country. We have good regional relationships with St. Louis city and our surrounding counties, and we are working very closely together.
But we also have to realize that the catchment area for our hospitals and our hospital systems is far south central Missouri, southern Illinois and northeast Missouri. We have to take care of individuals that come from our surrounding areas and our rural communities. We would prefer that they would take the same protective measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus. So that we can do everything we can to limit the impact on our hospitals.
The local community hospitals in rural Missouri will not be able to take care of all of these patients.
O’Donoghue: The politics of the regional leaders — those in St. Louis, St. Louis County, St. Charles County and Jefferson County — are different. Is that a factor when you all come together to figure out how to respond to this crisis?
Page: Not really. I think it might be a factor in how you describe what we’re doing. But if you look closely, you will see what we are doing is extraordinarily similar.
I think this is really a public health emergency and a public health crisis. It doesn’t have a partisan home. We are all working together to solve these problems.
Follow Julie on Twitter: @jsodonoghue
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