ST. LOUIS ( -- Local officials are in the very early stages of building prediction models and getting projections to estimate how many people in our area may get sick, be hospitalized, and ultimately die from COVID-19.

“New York is scaring us. The trend there is exponential in both cases and in deaths,” said Pam Walker, the former head of the St. Louis Health Department. Walker also headed up the State of Missouri’s Department on Emergency Response. “I have never seen anything like what is happening in New York."

But, she said, we don’t know yet how the virus will impact our region.

“We don’t have good data yet on who is going to get the sickest and who is going to die,” she said.

The State of Missouri, for example, says projections aren’t yet available.

That’s not a surprise to Walker, because of a lack of testing.

“We can’t just assume that St. Louis going to be like Italy or China, we can’t assume that," she explained. "America is different. We are not going to have solid projections until we get those tests, and that surveillance data."

Sources tell News 4, the St. Louis County Council has been briefed to expect cases to double every three days, with a possible total of 200,000 people infected; about 20% of the total population.

If hospitalization trends from New York continue, that could mean close to 30,000 people hospitalized.

“I don’t know if that’s right or not, until we get better testing, I am not going to guess,” Walker said.

She said it’s really still all so new.

“This is a disease we don’t have a 100 years of experience with,” said Walker. “It is best to assume that the worst will happen if we don’t put restrictions in place.”

“If a worst case happens than the worst case will exceed our capacity to deal with it,” added Dave Dillon with the Missouri Hospital Association.

He said his organization will soon be working with the State of Missouri to gather data for prediction models.

“We are absolutely planning for it, it would be malpractice if we weren’t planning for it,” said Dillon.

But he shares Walker’s opinion: the biggest variable is the behavior of the population.

“People take it seriously, protect yourself, protect your family stay home and social distance,” Walker said.

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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