St. Louis County’s daily COVID-19 cases topped over 1,000 last week. County officials are emphasizing the need to get cases under control or else lives will be lost.
Classrooms are emptying as St. Louis County struggles to get COVID-19 cases under control. Hospitals have reached 90% capacity with record-breaking daily cases in Missouri. On Nov. 12, the daily number of reported COVID-19 cases was over 1,000.
“We saw the number of cases rising in St. Louis County and we knew that this was going to get worse certainly before it got better,” Doug Moore, spokesperson for St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, said. “We’ve listened closely to the pandemic task force [and] they’ve been sounding the alarm louder and louder every week.”
Restaurants are now only allowed to have outdoor seating and stores may only operate at 25% capacity. Moore explained St. Louis County, the most populated county in Missouri, has had the most deaths and the highest rate of cases in the state. This caused Page’s team to take a hard look at what needed to happen. For Dean of Students John Buck, the restrictions make sense.
“I was just listening to a report on NPR the other night and people were aggregating cell phone data and showing that bars, restaurants, places of worship, those are places where COVID increases were happening in those kinds of settings,” Buck said. “So, what Dr. Page talked about today was reducing the amount of people in a retail establishment, no more indoor dining pick up delivery only. Those are addressing where, to me, it sounds where the increases are occurring.”
Moore said the areas were deemed as “high-risk.” He explained that while Page knows this will be tough on businesses, especially those who have worked diligently to follow the safety precautions in place, the team does not feel comfortable keeping the stores open until the numbers see a “substantial decline.” Moore said there is no way of knowing what exactly is going to happen in four weeks, but Page’s team is re-evaluating restrictions on Dec. 17.
“It’s not been like a light switch. Certainly, if it got better, we would consider going back to say like a 50% capacity [in businesses] and gatherings that are going to be dropped down to 10, we might consider bumping that back up to another number,” Moore said. “Within two weeks, if the hospitals have reached capacity, then we have no idea what’s going to happen. That could force more restrictions, but we really hope that by taking this action now and getting everybody on board, [it’s] letting them realize how bad this is. The hospitals are saying this is the worst it’s been.”
St. Louis County has not been the only county affected, Moore said. As rural counties become more infected, they turn to St. Louis-area hospitals for treatment, filling beds and stretching hospital staffs thinner. The capacity of hospitals has been a “mass issue” for the County Executive and his team. Moore went on to explain the hospitals reaching capacity doesn’t affect just COVID-19 patients, it affects everyone.
“When you put all these things combined from the hospital capacity to the growing numbers of cases in the county, we knew we had to do something. Because if someone’s in a car crash or has a heart attack or [is] a gunshot victim, and they go to the hospital and there are no beds for ICU, then lives are going to be lost,” Moore said.
Buck said the COVID-19 Task Force for Transition and Adaptability has been preparing for this moment.
“[The Task Force met] to make sure we have everything in place with other administrative colleagues here and we watch the briefings Dr. Sam Page [gives],” Buck said. “We are also very in tune with what is happening around us and always evaluating ‘Okay do we need to make a shift now? Do we wait? Is now the time or do we wait post-Thanksgiving?’”
The university announced shortly after Page’s briefing on Nov. 13 only classes that needed to be in-person, such as laboratories, will remain on campus. Dorm residents will also be allowed to stay on campus if they choose.
“We won’t be emptying out campus like we did in March and April. I think we will have folks who will be able to stay. A lot of folks in the area are going online for the remainder of the semester in some places but residents can still stay there and eat and live there until the end of the semester,” Buck said.
If students choose to go home, Moore cautions them to stay vigilant.
“I understand the numbers have shown that by and large, if you’re young and healthy, that the COVID cases we see the reaction to the virus isn’t bad in someone who’s 18 versus someone who’s 65 or 70 years old,” Moore said. “The message that we want all people going home for break for holidays is, if they can, spend a few days away from their family to sort of quarantine, practice a way to have limited interactions with their family. We understand everybody’s living conditions are different. So, we have to be reasonable with the expectations, but you do want to make sure that you know you can be asymptomatic and have the virus.”
The safest way to stay at home with your family post-Thanksgiving break, Moore explains, is to take the precautions the county has been saying for the last nine months. Wash your hands frequently with antibacterial soap, wear a mask and stay socially distant. Avoid going out with friends from home and don’t invite anyone over.
“I always remind others that I was 18 once,” Moore said. “But, your parents and your grandparents and your aunt and your uncles, any adults that you have in your home, the older they are, the more at risk they are for serious outcomes. Any sort of health issues that they may have it could be, COVID could aggravate those even more. You certainly don’t want to get any of your loved ones sick.”