With the pandemic so often reduced to a numbers game — how many cases, how many hospitalized, how many dead — it’s easy to forget the human equation. A group of St. Louis-area doctors and other health care workers recently tried to drive that part home, laying out in real-life terms the danger this region faces as coronavirus cases mount. It’s a jolting narrative. Citizens should listen.

In a news conference late last month, the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported a seven-day average of 360 coronavirus victims hospitalized in the metro area, with more than 50 new admissions daily. At the time, it was the highest rate of new hospitalizations in the region since April, with experts predicting it would rise further. They were right. The Post-Dispatch’s Blythe Bernhard reported Nov. 6 the numbers were at 487 hospitalizations and 69 daily admissions.

The issue isn’t just the coronavirus patients themselves but the medical resources those patients are using. “Think about what this means to you and your family member if you get sick,” Alex Garza, who heads the task force, told journalists Oct. 26. “Will there be a hospital to be able to care for you? Will they have space for your family member? Will the doctors, and the nurses, and the techs be on top of their game, or will they be exhausted and fatigued?”

As the Post-Dispatch’s Annika Merrilees reported, this isn’t some theoretical worst-case scenario from the distant future but rather a looming issue right now. St. Louis-area hospitals are at around 90% capacity, in part because of patient transfers from overwhelmed rural areas.

“We’re starting to see our resources being depleted, whether it’s nursing labor, physician labor, the bed capacity in our hospitals,” said Aamina Akhtar, infectious disease specialist at Mercy Hospital South. “We’re scared of what’s coming.” Already, some hospitals are limiting elective procedures.

“I think we’re all concerned about the potential to have enough (coronavirus) cases that reducing elective care is not enough,” said Clay Dunagan, chief clinical officer at Barnes Jewish Hospital.

The point wasn’t to dismay or scare people but to implore the public to start consistently doing the two simple things that could have already saved untold thousands of lives had they been taken seriously sooner: practice social distancing and wear masks in public.

“I don’t understand why it is so hard to sacrifice, to wear a mask, if it can save somebody else like my mother,” was the tearful testimony from Jennifer Duffey, whose mother died from the virus in September. “Our ask of you is to please wear a mask, and be careful, … be patient with the sacrifices we all have to make.”

With cooler weather and holiday gatherings upon us, area residents should heed this heart-rending plea.

This editorial was originally published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and distributed by The Associated Press.

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