ST. LOUIS -- Dr. Alex Garza began his briefing on Friday with "sobering" news that St. Louis-area hospitals had recorded 46 admissions for COVID-19 that day, pushing the seven-day average to 39.
Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said it was a "very high number ... we haven't seen for a couple of months." If the average were to hit 40, he said, it could be time to consider "other things we can do" to stop the virus.
If Friday's data was sobering, Saturday's was troubling.
The task force reported 56 new admissions for COVID-19 on Saturday, pushing the seven-day average to 41. Saturday also marked the first time since May 2 — and the second time since April 18 — that more than 50 patients were admitted in a single day with COVID-19.
St. Louis County has already started ramping up restrictions after an increase in positive cases in recent weeks. On Thursday, the health department recommended schools rely on remote learning this fall, and on Friday a series of new restrictions on occupancy rules and business hours went into effect.
Garza said in a statement on Saturday that the task force was "working to learn more about today's data" and was more concerned about trends than a one-day spike. He said it would be premature to start talking about more restrictions until the task force had two weeks to observe the impact of the most recent restrictions.
But he said, "We are running out of levers to pull, short of a complete shutdown."
The latest state hospitalization data, from Thursday, show bed use well above the lowest levels, seen in mid-June, but below peaks of early May. On Thursday, hospitals reported 889 inpatients with COVID-19, 77 more than the previous day, with 96 patients on ventilators.
COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide peaked May 5 at 984.
University of Missouri Health Care on Sunday afternoon was reporting 10 inpatients under treatment for COVID-19, down from a peak of 21 on July 12. As of Friday afternoon, there were 23 inpatients in Columbia hospitals, including MU Health Care, Boone Hospital Center and Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital.
The rising hospitalizations are coming amid rapidly increasing case counts statewide. On Sunday, the Department of Health and Senior Services reported 582 new infections, the lowest number in almost two weeks. The state did not report any additional deaths on Sunday.
In St. Louis, Garza said, the task force was also trying to understand the impact of masking orders in St. Louis and St. Louis County, but the results would be uneven because of the lack of a regional masking policy.
'CONCERNING AND FRUSTRATING'
Doug Moore, a spokesman for County Executive Sam Page, said Saturday's hospitalization numbers were "concerning and frustrating." Asked whether they could result in further restrictions, Moore said county officials "continue to watch the numbers."
"It demonstrates that there is not universal mask wearing or social distancing acceptance," Moore said in a text. "Unless everyone steps up and acts responsibly, the numbers will continue to rise. We cannot wish this away."
The task force, which represents the four major health systems in the region, also reported the number of patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose from 248 to 252, and the number of patients suspected of having the disease rose from 106 to 115. The number of patients in the ICU increased to 67, from 63, and there were three more patients placed on ventilators, for a total of 32.
Saturday was the first full day under stricter occupancy limits in St. Louis County intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Businesses were limited to admitting customers up to 25% of their occupancy limits, crowds were restricted to 50 people and bars required to close at 10 p.m.
In Brentwood on Saturday afternoon, during a break between rain showers, there were five people waiting to get into the Nordstrom Rack store and 18 waiting in front of REI, the outdoor retailer. There was no line at Target, but more than two dozen people lined up in front of Trader Joe's.
An employee of the Cirque Italia Water Circus, which has set up in a parking lot at the Galleria mall, said that whole rows were being left empty in the large tent, and three rows between parties. All patrons were required to wear masks and the circus recommended gloves.
At Montrey's Cigar Lounge in Ferguson, manager Jessica Richardson said that enforcing the county's new 10 p.m. curfew for bars was not difficult Friday, the first night it went into effect.
She said she set last call at 9:15 p.m. Everyone was out at 9:50 p.m., she said.
"A lot of people understand that this is what has to happen so we don't shut down," she said.
Rudi Keller of the Tribune’s staff contributed to this report.