Dozens of doctors and nurses from across Missouri have issued an urgent plea to Gov. Mike Parson: Issue a statewide mask mandate before it’s too late.
With thousands of new cases of COVID-19 being diagnosed each day and patients crowding into Missouri hospitals, some intensive care units are nearly full. But health care workers say the worst is yet to come, and they warn more lives will be lost without a coordinated statewide response.
Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said Friday it has become “painfully obvious” that individual behavior alone is not enough to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Missouri.
“Let me be really, really clear on this: A statewide mask mandate is needed to save lives across the state,” Garza said, adding that the virus is now so widespread that it’s no longer effective to leave the decision up to individual counties and municipalities. “We need the state to act.”
Parson did not respond to a request for comment from St. Louis Public Radio. But during a press conference Thursday, he said the call for a statewide mask mandate has “been out there for months” and reiterated that he believes it should be up to individual Missourians to behave responsibly.
“We got to do our part to protect one another,” Parson said, stressing his campaign promise to protect individual freedom. “No government’s gonna do that for you. You have to take that upon yourself.”
Asked whether he would consider instituting a mask mandate statewide, Parson said the “vast majority” of Missouri residents are already required to wear masks, adding that “it’s up to the local levels to be able to do that, I mean, that’s why you have elections.”
But the coalition of health care workers in Missouri says the situation has become so grave that a piecemeal response is not enough to slow the rapid spread of the virus.
In addition to a mask mandate, the coalition asked Parson to institute a statewide stay-at-home order and begin working with emergency managers to plan for when — not if — hospitals become overwhelmed this fall.
Based on the current rate of new cases, hospitals in the St. Louis region are expected to run out of beds during the first week of December, Garza said, and that means they won’t be able to accept critically ill patients from across the state.
Some health care systems have already had to turn away dozens of patients seeking transfer from rural hospitals in Missouri.
The Mercy health care system last week received 129 requests for transfers from outlying facilities — but didn’t have enough beds for 39 of those patients, said Keith Starke, Mercy’s senior vice president and chief clinical officer.
“What happens to those patients when they can’t be transferred?” Starke said. “As these numbers go up, our ability to accept transfers goes down. Because when we are full, we are full.”
Kansas City health leaders released their own call to action Friday, urging local officials to enforce mask requirements, require bars and restaurants to close by 10 p.m. and limit all in-person gatherings.
In a joint statement, six public health directors from the Kansas City region, including Johnson, Jackson, Platte and Clay counties, expressed alarm at the "rampant community spread" in the region and asked local governments to take action.
"We fully understand the impact that stay-at-home orders have on our local economy," the statement reads. "However, COVID-19 transmission cannot continue to rage out of control in our community given the severe strain on our health and medical systems."
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