For weeks, the repeated messaging from health experts around the world is that the best defense against spreading COVID-19 is staying away from each other. But when “social distancing” proved not enough, area leaders took the dramatic step of ordering residents to stay home.
“We must tuck into our homes, stay away from others and do everything we can to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page said in a video address on Saturday, March 21.
The stay-at-home order was signed by the county’s top-ranking health official, Dr. Emily Doucette. The restrictions go into effect on Monday, March 23 and is scheduled to last through April 22. The order does allow for “essential travel” and some business-related activities, but even those are to be conducted following the county’s social distancing guidelines. Residents are still allowed to travel to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and some other basic services. But the intention is clear: St. Louis County needs to stay home as much as possible over the next 30 days.
While these actions might seem swift or extreme to some, Page made it clear that his office felt they had no other choice.
“We have a great sense of urgency,” Page said. “We have new cases of coronavirus every day.”
The order came less than 24 hours after a similar measure was enacted by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who called on the citizens of Illinois to “shelter in place” to help prevent the spread of the deadly virus.
Page’s announcement also comes on the heels of the first COVID-19 related death in St. Louis County. A 60-year-old woman passed away on March 20 after being hospitalized five days earlier. Judy Wilson-Griffin was a nurse at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital but had been away from work for several weeks before contracting the virus.
In his announcement, Page not only acknowledged Wilson-Griffin’s passing but the grim reality that lies ahead for all of us.
“Unfortunately, there will be more in the future,” Page said.
According to the signed order, violations could lead to a misdemeanor conviction.
Meanwhile, the local medical community is taking unprecedented behind-the-scenes steps to make sure that St. Louis is prepared for even the worst possible scenarios.
In a memorandum sent out to all faculty members of the Washington University School of Medicine, Dr. David Perlmutter made it clear that all hands needed to be on deck for this health crisis.
“… effective today we are temporarily canceling all previously scheduled vacation,” Perlmutter wrote. “… and requiring all faculty, staff and trainees to be available, notwithstanding PTO status, to report to work within one hour on a 24/7 basis. This means NO travel outside of the 60-mile radius of our campus.”
Washington University shares both people and property with Barnes Jewish Hospital near the city’s Central West End. Barnes Jewish is consistently ranked as the top hospital in the state of Missouri and one of the top 20 in the United States by several independent publications. The hospital has a maximum capacity of just over 1,300 beds.
Perlmutter seemed to recognize the extraordinary scope of his request on the school’s faculty, but the realities of this current pandemic justified the request.
“We realize that these are extraordinary measures, but the challenge that we are about to face is significant and we must collectively conquer it,” Perlmutter wrote.
St. Louis County Health Department has created a resource for following the stay at-home order which can be found here.