ST. LOUIS — State and local officials, scrambling to prepare for an overwhelming surge of COVID-19 patients, are in talks to stem the tide, including options such as building a field hospital, canceling all but the most urgent medical procedures and deploying the Missouri National Guard to relieve health care staffing shortages.
Hospital leaders are even discussing how to choose which patients to serve first when resources are limited.
They hope it never reaches that point, the chief of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, Dr. Alex Garza, said on Friday. But task force projections show the region's hospitals maxing out intensive care units in a matter of days.
"We are already running out of capacity at some of our hospitals and have begun having conversations we've dreaded since the beginning of this pandemic," Garza said.
The number of COVID-positive patients in hospitals here has doubled since the beginning of November, and more than tripled since the beginning of October. On Friday, the task force reported a record 881 coronavirus patients in BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke's facilities across the metro area, and 148 patients with suspected cases. The data lags two days.
On average here, 84% of total staffed beds at hospitals are filled, and ICU beds are at 91% capacity.
The Missouri Hospital Association and Gov. Mike Parson's administration are discussing options to address the toll the pandemic is taking on doctors, nurses and other workers involved in the surging number of cases, said association spokesman Dave Dillon.
"The governor is engaged on this. His team is looking at all options," Dillon said Friday.
Garza said the task force is working with the state to determine what assistance will be necessary. The region might need a field hospital, he said. And it might just need to open up beds in area hospitals that, right now, can't be used because the hospitals don't have enough staff.
"And, given these projections, it might be both," Garza said.