An 87-year-old St. Clair woman is the 28th Franklin County resident to die from COVID-19-related complications.
The death, and 31 new cases, were reported Tuesday, bringing the countywide total of virus cases to 1,582.
Meanwhile, the Franklin County Health Department has received reports of 22 flu cases in the past four weeks, a few weeks ahead of the official flu season, which typically runs from October until May.
Mercy Hospital Washington is currently treating two patients who each have the flu and COVID-19, President Eric Eoloff told The Missourian Tuesday
In an email Friday, Eoloff told Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker that hospital officials are very concerned about the impending flu season given that the hospital’s 13-bed ICU already has been running at 94 percent capacity as COVID-19 cases have been increasing in the county. The addition of flu patients could overwhelm the hospital’s staff and resources, he said in the email, which Brinker provided to The Missourian.
During the 2019-2020 flu season, 2,525 flu cases were reported in Franklin County. The county has averaged more than 1,700 flu cases each of the past five years.
On Friday, Mercy Hospital Washington had 16 COVID-19 patients, including seven in ICU/TCU, according to Eoloff’s email to Brinker. Of those patients, 13 were Franklin County residents with the other three residing in Warren, Gasconade and Osage counties, he said.
The average length of stay for patients with COVID-19 needing critical ICU care is more than 10 days, Eoloff said.
Eoloff explained in the email that the hospital has 19 specialized rooms where the sickest patients, including those with COVID-19, are treated. “The combination of increasing COVID hospitalizations brought to us mainly from Franklin County and the ongoing need for critical care for patients without COVID has brought our critical care capacity to 94 percent capacity,” Eoloff said in the email.
Eoloff added that many flu patients require the specialized rooms and care now being monopolized by COVID-19 patients.
“We do not have any more critical care nurses to support turning another floor/unit of our Washington hospital into an expanded critical care floor,” Eoloff said in the email. “Also, we cannot keep critical care patients in our ER for long, as ER nurses are not trained in all types of critical care nursing (e.g., ventilator care).”
Once the hospital reaches capacity, Eoloff said the local patients will be sent to St. Louis.
“Unless the rate of hospitalizations from COVID in Franklin County decreases, we anticipate that we will not be able to serve many of these elderly, critically ill patients coming here, and we will ask the EMS districts to transfer to St. Louis,” Eoloff told Brinker in the email. “This will also take EMS units outside of Franklin County for longer periods of time.”
An email sent by Mercy Chief of Staff Thomas Riechers to members of the Washington City Council and Mayor Sandy Lucy last week, urging action to mitigate the spread of the virus, drew the ire of Brinker, prompting him to ask Mercy officials that Franklin County officials be included in future communications.
In his email, Riechers recommended the city of Washington limit public gatherings and revisit the possibility of a citywide mask mandate.
“The statements you made certainly struck fear in the hearts of the region while directed to only one of the major municipalities you serve,” Brinker wrote. “I remain hopeful your patient population doesn’t increase due to your actions.”
Brinker also included a photo of an outdoor public event held in Union last week, which featured dozens of people dining outdoors shoulder to shoulder on Main Street without masks.
In his response, Eoloff said the recommendations were not meant to “strike fear or panic.
“We believe the public needs to know these facts to do more to wear face masks at appropriate times,” Eoloff wrote in an email. “If the curve is not bent, there is no question in our minds that more critically ill elderly Franklin County residents will transfer to St. Louis for care, so long as they have capacity as well.”
Eoloff told Brinker if the county would like to participate in a joint effort to alert county residents about what is happening with the increased hospitalizations, or if the county commission is open to hearing more from the medical community about the importance of mask wearing, Mercy would be happy to participate.