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Missouri governor appears poised to lift coronavirus restrictions
PHASE 2 of PLAN EXPECTED THURSDAY

Missouri governor appears poised to lift coronavirus restrictions

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St. Louis County Parks Reopen

Tim Mullinax of St. Louis County Parks power washes a playground at Endicott Park in Bel-Ridge on May 19 as part of a routine cleaning. Parks in St. Louis County reopened on May 18, although playgrounds and basketball courts are still inaccessible to encourage social distancing. Photo by Chris Kohley, ckohley@post-dispatch.com.

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson is signaling that he is likely to lift coronavirus restrictions set to expire Monday.

In a briefing in the Capitol on Tuesday, Parson said he would reveal his decision in the coming days.

The state has surpassed the goals he laid out in early May, he said, when he began plotting a plan to jump-start the state’s pandemic-ravaged economy. Those goals included ramped up testing for COVID-19, adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, hospital capacity and data.

“We have not only met these pillars, but we have exceeded them,” Parson said.

He declined to outline what he envisions for Phase 2 of the state’s reopening and whether businesses will continue to have to limit capacity.

“We’ll get into a lot of detail on that Thursday,” Parson said.

The state reported an additional 179 coronavirus cases Tuesday — bringing the total number to 14,913. That’s an increase of about 6.5% in the past week.

But, the number of tests that are coming back positive for the virus is dropping, for example, meaning the virus may not be spreading as quickly anymore.

“The more testing we do the more knowledge and data we have and the more confidence and reassurance we can give Missourians that it is OK to move forward,” Parson said.

In addition to the new cases, the number of people who have died rose by 21, to 840 Tuesday.

In Illinois, officials reported 797 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the total to 129,212. The death toll rose by 95, for a total of 6,018.

In St. Louis County an additional 44 new cases pushed the count up to 5,345, and 14 new deaths brought the total to 480. St. Louis saw 24 new cases for a tally of 2,132, and three deaths increased the toll to 139.

St. Louis area hospital admission data for COVID-19 showed small changes in the wrong direction, according to Tuesday’s report from the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

The latest data shows 19 people were admitted to St. Louis area hospitals, up from 14 the day before.

The average daily number of patients admitted to the hospital over the last seven days also increased to 17 from 16.

Hospitalizations, however, continue to drop, the report shows. The average number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals over the past week decreased to 298 from 314. The latest number hospitalized was 242.

The task force compiles numbers from four leading health systems in the region: BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital.

While hospitalizations are down in the St. Louis area, data shows hospitalizations increased across the state.

Statewide, 533 patients were hospitalized Tuesday with COVID-19 — a decrease of 53 from the day before, according to a daily report by the Missouri Hospital Association.

The number could be higher. Only 107 of the state’s 120 hospitals provided numbers for Tuesday’s report. The number of participating hospitals fluctuates each day.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Parson had Missouri’s Medicaid director Todd Richardson speak more about gains made in COVID-19 testing.

Richardson said over the past two weeks, 108 long-term care facilities have tested their entire staff and residents — totaling over 13,000 tests. The tests identified 79 staff members and 180 residents with COVID-19.

“This effort is saving lives by ensuring outbreaks are being contained, that appropriate infection control measures are being used, and that staff and residents are properly quarantined,” he said.

Random testing of state mental health facilities, veterans homes, prisons and youth residential care facilities also identified small numbers of infected staff and residents, Richardson said.

In addition, the state held community testing events over the past two weeks in 11 counties, where 11,000 people were tested. Only 107 of those tested positive, he said.

“The overall cases were lower than we expected in many instances, and we are containing outbreaks where they might otherwise have been much more severe,” Richardson said.

Parson, a Republican, allowed the state to reopen May 4, with restrictions such as 6-foot social distancing and limits on capacity for many businesses and organizations. The second phase of reopening, which had been scheduled to begin May 31, was pushed back to June 15 due to the resurgence in cases.

Parson has already begun to pare back some of the practices that he began earlier in the pandemic.

Instead of holding daily press briefings to update the public on the state’s response, his schedule this week includes only two briefings.

His communications director, Kelli Jones, said the governor hopes to continue holding press events to discuss the pandemic, but not always in his Capitol office.

“I think if we can get out more, we’d rather do that,” Jones said. “We will play it by ear.”

The governor also must make a decision about whether to cancel the Missouri State Fair, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 13 and run for 10 days in Sedalia.

Other states, including Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Alaska, have canceled their summer events because of the large crowds that gather.

Some fair sponsors have already withdrawn from the event for financial reasons. Others may pull out if the fair is dramatically shortened, said fair director Mark Wolfe.

“I am sure we have a lot of sponsors who are suffering financially,” Wolfe said.

A previous version of this story incorrectly said statewide hospitalizations had increased.

Updated at 6:52 p.m.

Kurt Erickson • 573-556-6181 @KurtEricksonPD on Twitter kerickson@post-dispatch.com

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