Task force formed to fight coronavirus in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - The St. Louis area's four largest healthcare systems are teaming up to fight coronavirus. BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke's Hospital have created the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. SSM Chief Medical Officer Dr. Alex Garza has been named the Incident Commander. Garza previously served as Assistant Secretary and Chief Medical Officer to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where he led the U.S. response to the H1N1 pandemic.

"We quickly came to realize," Garza said during the task force's introductory press conference, "that we needed a unified approach if we were going to get through this pandemic successfully. We realized this was the best way to address all of our needs, whether that's personal protective equipment or facilities or ventilators, all of those different things."

Garza says all area hospitals involved in the task force will still take COVID-19 patients. He says they are planning how they will share supplies if necessary. "Particularly if one system was getting much more strained, how can we then shift and allocate resources to protect them? It does us no good if one of the other healthcare systems fails while we still have personal protective equipment or ventilators." Of the current COVID-19 cases, Garza says a "significant percentage" of patients are on ventilators. 

The systems have the equipment they need for now, he says, but they are continually "scouring the earth" looking for more. "We never want to be in a position where we feel like we're going to run out of personal protective equipment, or ventilators or ICU space, and the way to do that is to decrease spread."  He says that is up to the public following the CDC guidelines concerning social distancing. 

Based on models being done by the local health systems and Washington and St. Louis Universities, Garza says, coronavirus will hit its peak here in two to three weeks. "That's what our best models are showing us. That could all change within a week. We ran the models last week. Numbers look different. Dates look different. As we get more data into the model it becomes more refined. We become more comfortable with what's coming out."

Garza says we will get through this, "But the single most important priority for our community must be to slow the spread of this virus." 

Starting Sunday, the task force will be providing updates on coronavirus at 3 pm each day. 

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