Stacey Newman: COVID Doesn't Care What We Believe

click to enlarge Stacey Newman, executive director/founder of ProgressWomen. - PROVIDED
Stacey Newman, executive director/founder of ProgressWomen.

This past Thanksgiving Day, 900 St. Louis COVID-19 patients were hospitalized as numbers soar.

St. Louis area hospitals predict shortly ICU floors will be full while hospitals, rural and local, search surrounding states, desperate for emergency critical care beds.

DePaul Hospital in St. Louis County is waiting for deaths to open up more beds and like many other hospitals, has ordered a refrigerated truck because their morgue is already over capacity.

Read that again — ”waiting for deaths."

Dr. Alex Garza, chief medical officer of SSM Health and head of the St. Louis Regional Pandemic Task Force, begs Gov. Mike Parson for a statewide mask mandate, as do numerous medical professionals. Herb Kuhn, President and CEO of the Missouri Hospital Association, implores the governor to immediately act, stating “the wolf is at the door."

Out of sheer desperation, Dr. Micah Luderer, a local frontline physician, launched a petition appealing to the governor to “save lives” via a mask mandate. Dr. Kenneth Remy, a Barnes-Jewish Hospital ICU physician, posted an online video simulating the eerie labored breathing of a COVID patient in the final moments of life, pleading for us to simply don a mask.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Bob Onder (R-Lake St. Louis) taunts me on social media as I present current public health facts. He asks “Does the actual wearing of masks or the feel-good mandate on a piece of paper, ‘save lives’?”

The answer is yes.

Saving lives is the point.

All of us depend on hospitals and their staff, especially in an emergency – to repair broken bones, save us from debilitating strokes and brain bleeds and to shock our hearts back to life. We’ve never in our lifetimes NOT known them to be there.

Then the pandemic hit, attacking populous urban centers first as the virus wound its deadly way through small rural towns. At the same time, naysayers propagate messages that it's all a hoax, taking their cues from QAnon and the White House.

One of those naysayers is Onder, a physician legislator representing St. Charles County, a county resisting a county mask mandate although depending on area St. Louis hospitals for care.

Onder, with a history of discounting medical science, is challenging Dr. Garza, former Chief Medical Officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, insisting on evidence of mask-mandate efficacy. His disregard for the lives of frontline medical workers, let alone his own constituents, is disgusting.

Never mind that the CDC compared counties in Kansas, publishing a study in November adding to the growing body of worldwide evidence that mask mandates slow the spread of COVID. A new study by St. Louis University compared mandates in St. Louis and St. Louis County against outlying counties without mandates and concluded that county mask mandates significantly and quickly slowed virus infections.

National public health experts concur. Large-scale mask mandates, even limited and temporary on a national scale during the coming winter months, could save tens of thousands of lives.

Last April, as I directed St. Louis area COVID relief efforts via ProgressWomen, a statewide social justice organization, donating needed PPE, thousands of hand-sewn masks and meals to COVID ICU staff, I met many on the frontline. The fatigue and sad exhaustion in their eyes was alarmingly unforgettable.

Additional nurses and physicians reached out for help and spoke hauntingly of fears of infecting themselves and their families. They asked us to please take mask precautions seriously. They told us once patients hit COVID ICU floors, they would be triaged as to who would get the few life-saving ventilators. Today frontline physicians tell us they are doubling up patients in ICU rooms, unthinkable in previous hospital protocols.

Still Missouri Governor Parson urges only “personal responsibility”, leaving shutdown decisions to local school districts and disavowing public health warnings. Legislators in the state capitol still balk at wearing masks and still host public events throughout the state as in the “Before Times."

Meanwhile, the coronavirus does what it does best — spread.

I personally understand pandemic fatigue as well as cancelling holiday celebrations, even the hard decision to postpone a daughter’s wedding. But COVID is not fatigued.

Missouri remains one of thirteen states without a statewide mask mandate, leaving rural counties, many without hospitals, ICU beds or local mask mandates of their own, defenseless. This holiday season means a spike in gatherings of people traveling outside their households. It means exhausted medical staff bracing for soaring outbreaks, knowing their own lives are at risk.

Several weeks ago, Dr. Garza in an emotional press briefing begged the governor one more time for a mask mandate, warning that no locale in the state is safe.

Missouri is averaging 42 virus deaths a day with 4,000 deaths and over 300,000 cases reported. Still, no mask mandate or emergency stay at home order.

Sen. Onder can call me “woke”, cry about “freedom” and dispute his fellow medical colleagues’ expertise.

Here’s the thing.

COVID-19 doesn’t care. It’s just going to keep on winning.

Stacey Newman is the executive director/ founder of ProgressWomen, a statewide social justice organization focused on justice and equality issues. A former Missouri state legislator, she represented a St. Louis district for nine years.
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