JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Friday extended the state emergency declaration for the coronavirus pandemic until June 15 and said he would release a two-phase plan next week on guidelines for most of the state’s businesses to reopen May 4.
Parson announced Friday that he would lay out a plan to reopen restaurants, church services, retail manufacturers and small businesses with some social distancing rules in place. The plan, to be released Monday, also will address graduations, weddings and events, Parson said.
The governor said barbershops, gyms, massage therapy businesses and salons would be among the businesses allowed to reopen May 4 in the state. More details on the social distancing measures that will stay in place will be included in Monday’s plan, according to the governor’s office.
But the relaxed statewide rules may not apply to St. Louis and St. Louis County by May 4. Local leaders can opt to keep stricter rules, and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson each have extended local stay-at-home orders indefinitely, citing ongoing concerns about the spread of the virus.
Statewide, Parson said Friday that social distancing measures have “drastically improved the predictions for Missouri.” He extended the state emergency declaration issued March 13 so that hundreds of changes in state statutes and regulations in response to the pandemic could stay in place, according to the governor’s office.
Parson said Friday that, though there will be distancing guidelines, businesses largely will be responsible for keeping their workers and customers safe.
“I don’t think you need government to regulate everything about how you run your business,” Parson said. “I think … the businesses will take it upon themselves to make sure the customers feel safe and, frankly, the customers are not going to go there if they don’t feel safe.”
Parson was asked Friday if employees who do not feel safe returning to work because of the spread of the virus will still be able to receive state unemployment payments.
“That’s going to be between the employee or the employer to decide whether or not that’s safe,” Parson said, adding that it would be an ongoing discussion in state government.
The new details on reopening were announced Friday, as Missouri’s total reported COVID-19 deaths spiked by 20% because of a reporting lag, said Dr. Randall Williams, Missouri’s state health director.
Missouri officials on Friday reported 44 new coronavirus deaths, more than double the previous single-day high. The jump was caused by a jurisdiction reporting 12 days’ worth of deaths at once, Williams said at a news conference. He did not specify which jurisdiction had the delay.
Missouri also had a jump in new cases, reporting 304 new positive tests Friday for a total of 6,625, including 262 deaths. Williams said that increase also was connected to a reporting issue. Technical problems at a large private lab resulted in the state getting about a week’s worth of tests at once. Normally, labs are required to report positives within 24 hours to the state, Williams said.
Most of the state’s deaths are concentrated around St. Louis. In the metro area, including Illinois suburbs, at least 250 people with COVID-19 had died as of Friday evening. The death toll in St. Louis County had the largest rise in the area Friday, with the county reporting 15 new deaths from the virus for a total of 117.
But most people with the disease are recovering.
Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said Friday that St. Louis-area hospitals reached an “important milestone” of discharging more than 1,000 coronavirus patients.
Garza said hospitalizations are expected to peak over the weekend in the area.
“We’re still not on the downward side of the slope,” Garza said. “So in order for us to feel comfortable that we’ve decreased transmission enough so that we can start relaxing social distancing rules, we want to see a sustained reduction in those numbers of hospitalizations. Absent wide-scale testing, that is our best marker for what is occurring out in the community.”
The release of 1,034 recovered COVID-19 patients, Garza said, is the result of the “heroic commitment” of the region’s health care workers as well as efforts of workers, businesses and officials to slow community spread.
At St. Louis’ major hospital systems — BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital — 701 people were hospitalized Friday in connection to COVID-19, up by seven from the day before. The number of patients in intensive care units fell by two from Thursday to 168, and 114 people with COVID-19 were using ventilators to breathe, down by nine from the day before.
Garza has said St. Louis has about 5,500 available hospital beds, including about 1,000 beds in intensive care units.
Illinois officials on Friday announced the state’s biggest daily increase in COVID-19 cases, 2,724 new cases. There were 39,658 total cases in the state Friday and 1,795 deaths, including at least 47 deaths in the Metro East.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Friday that the state had completed more than 16,000 tests in one day, exceeding his goal of 10,000 daily tests for the virus.
Pritzker said a 17% positive test rate is lower than the earlier average positive rate of 21%, but added it’s too early to conclude whether the decrease is the result of expanded testing.
“It’s a positive sign nonetheless for everyone when more people are getting tested and there is a lower ratio of positives,” Pritzker said.
The state now has five drive-thru testing sites. More testing, Pritzker said, is important for the state’s ability to understand when Illinoisans can get back to work. Pritzker on Thursday extended the state’s stay-at-home order until May 30, with some modifications.
“In the face of this virus, testing is really key to everything else that we need to do to get Illinois moving again,” he said.
In Missouri, testing has not increased as quickly, as the number of people tested each day has trended downward. But Williams, the state health director, said that is not because of a lack of testing capacity in the state.
“It is that, in fact, there are just less people walking around who are having fevers and coughs and the flu,” Williams said, adding that the state is focusing on mass-testing communities where there are outbreaks, such as nursing homes and meatpacking plants.
“At this point in Missouri, if you have a fever and cough, I would be concerned about that,” Williams said. “And I would get tested for COVID-19.”
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