ST. LOUIS COUNTY — Responding to an “alarming” increase in coronavirus cases, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page on Monday announced a 10 p.m. curfew for bars, as well as other rollbacks of reopening measures taken since June. Meanwhile, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said the city would shut down bars and other businesses for two weeks if they are found to be flouting city health rules.
Page said businesses would again be limited to 25% occupancy, and gatherings capped at 50 or fewer people. Churches are limited to 25% capacity, a spokesman said.
St. Louis County has had, by far, the most COVID-19 cases and deaths of any county in the state. By Monday, the total had reached 11,507 known cases and 636 deaths since the start of the pandemic. The county accounts for about 27% of the state’s 43,050 cases and more than half of the 1,201 deaths, but it makes up less than one-sixth of the state’s population.
Four of the county’s five highest single-day case counts came in the last week.
Cases have also been increasing elsewhere in Missouri and around the country, due to a relaxation of pandemic-related restrictions and the ignoring of mandates or recommendations to wear masks and stay 6 feet from other people.
Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Pandemic Task Force, praised the county’s move Monday, calling it a “positive step in the right direction.”
He said that after recent increases, the St. Louis area’s seven-day moving average of new daily hospitalizations has held around 40 or dropped in recent days, representing “some good news.”
He also said that area hospitals are not seeing the same number of ICU patients and patients on ventilators as they did earlier in the pandemic for two reasons: there are fewer patients from nursing homes, and hospitals are growing more skilled at treating COVID-19.
Page said the rolled-back restrictions would be in place for four weeks. He said he does not expect to see results from the new restrictions for at least three weeks, due to the latency period of the disease.
“The rate of rise that we see today will be much worse before it gets better,” he said
Bars in St. Louis
In St. Louis, the mayor responded Monday to reports of bars ignoring guidelines for masks and social distancing over the weekend by ordering noncompliant bars and nightclubs to be closed for 14 days.
A news release announcing the action did not name specific venues.
“We hope to be able to identify the businesses once we feel they have received proper notice,” mayoral spokesman Jacob Long said in an email Monday.
The announcement followed wide circulation on social media of a 29-second clip posted Saturday on Instagram by the account @wheelhouse_nightlife. It appeared to show masses of people without masks crowding The Wheelhouse bar downtown near Busch Stadium. Shortly after noon Monday, a tweet of the video had been viewed more than 40,400 times.
It was unclear Monday who maintains the account, or when the videos were recorded. A phone call to the Wheelhouse and an email to one of its owners were not immediately returned.
Among those sharing the tweet of the video was chef and restaurateur Gerard Craft of Pastaria and Brasserie by Niche.
“If this is current this is total (bull)!” Craft tweeted Sunday. “So many people struggling and doing the right thing while selfish people have been bringing us close to another shutdown.”
Krewson said about half a dozen businesses got warning letters a week ago.
Those that have not complied with health requirements will be receiving letters late Monday or early Tuesday telling them that they must close for two weeks, she said.
“This is a very serious step that we never wanted to have to take,” Krewson said. “We hope that other businesses will get the message and come in line.”
Krewson called the city’s approach a targeted one, saying, “We are trying to avoid shutting down a whole class of businesses.”
She also said officials are looking at reducing the hours of some late-night bars. Ninety are allowed to stay open until 3 a.m., she said.
Krewson said the pandemic is now being driven by the young. She said 64% of infections in the city are occurring in people under 40, with 31% being reported in people in their 20s and nearly 24% in people in their 30s. She said that people in their 60s and 70s appear to have taken the guidelines “to heart.”
“This is full community spread,” Krewson said when asked what contact tracers were learning. Infections have been traced to bars, restaurants and offices, she said, but people are also “out and about so much that it’s very hard to actually recall every place you’ve been in the last week and everyone you’ve been around in the last week.”
In St. Charles County, seven mayors and several leaders of chambers of commerce joined County Executive Steve Ehlmann on Monday in “strongly” requesting that businesses require masks, citing a recent increase of virus cases there and raising the specter of a return to a modified shelter-in-place.
“It is not too late to get this resurgence under control,” Scott Tate, head of the Greater St. Charles County Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.
Ehlmann said the leaders were encouraging the move, but business owners “should have the freedom to make the decision” on their own.
The county has seen a 124% increase in cases over the last two weeks and reported that 1,211 people are in quarantine.
Garza on Monday flagged ZIP codes in Wentzville, O’Fallon and St. Peters in St. Charles County for having new cases over the last week approaching or exceeding 100, as well as part of Florissant and areas in south St. Louis County that saw increased numbers.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson emphasized statewide efforts to increase the number of COVID-19 contact tracers during a news conference Monday.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services employs 37 contact tracers, Parson said. The department is training 150 tracers for local health departments and is working to train state employees in other departments to add more tracers statewide.
But Parson said much of the funding to improve tracking should come from federal relief funds given to counties.
In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker had hired about 550 contact tracers by the beginning of June and pledged $230 million to help bolster contact tracing.
On Monday, Illinois reported 1,231 new cases and 18 deaths, for a total of 172,655 cases and 7,416 deaths.
Missouri reported an additional 1,123 cases in the last 24 hours, marking a full week that the state has tallied at least 1,000 new cases per day.
Parson was asked Monday about Missouri recently being added to a list of states with travel restrictions by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, requiring people entering those three states from Missouri to quarantine for 14 days.
“I’m not going to put much stock in what New York says. They’re a disaster,” Parson said, adding that most people in Missouri are “smart enough in the state that they don’t want to go to New York.”
Although New York City was one of the earliest virus hot spots, the state has been doing a better job of managing the pandemic recently. Missouri reported 8,323 new cases in the last week, or 136 for every 100,000 people, according to New York Times data. New York reported 4,928 new cases, or 25 for every 100,000 people.
Sarah Teague of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
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