ST. LOUIS — St. Louis and St. Louis County on Monday joined most of Missouri in allowing some businesses to reopen after weeks of restrictions in efforts to stem the coronavirus pandemic — but it was far from business as usual.
As the St. Louis Galleria and West County Center malls reopened, anchor stores, including Nordstrom and Macy’s, and most national chains stayed shuttered. Outside the few stores open at the shopping centers, customers often lined up feet apart to enter a few at a time.
Jazmine Liggins was among those waiting midday Monday outside the Footaction store at St. Louis Galleria, wearing a mask and keeping her distance from others.
Liggins, 23, needed new shoes, a purchase she didn’t want to make online.
“This is about it,” said Liggins, 23, of where she’d be shopping. “The clothes stores aren’t really open.”
In the Galleria, some kiosks were open and all tables were gone from the food court for shoppers’ safety.
At West County Center, some stores would not allow entry to customers without a mask, while others posted signs advising masks were “strongly encouraged.”
Shirley Martin said her shopping trip Monday to West County Center was the first time she’d been out of the house for anything but necessities in more than two months. Martin lives in Florida, but is staying in Wentzville during the outbreak where she is helping to care for her granddaughter.
“Some of these stores are still having people try on clothes and I don’t really know if that’s safe,” said Martin, who was sitting with a mask near a Forever 21 store that had a line of about 20 people waiting to enter Monday afternoon. “I want to get used to this new normal, but I wouldn’t try clothes on right now.”
In St. Louis, the Delmar Loop was largely empty around midday, with some restaurants opting to stick to takeout. Many restaurants in the Central West End also continued to offer take-out only, though a few nail salons in the neighborhood reopened their doors Monday with schedules full of customers.
Both St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said Monday that despite this gradual reopening of the economy, the public needs to continue to take precautions, including wearing masks and washing hands often.
“We are asking everyone to go slow,” Krewson said during a video briefing. “This is not the time ... to just go all out as if things were like they were before. We still have a very contagious virus in our community, in our world.”
Krewson said city officials would visit businesses believed to be violating social distancing rules that are still in place, including occupancy limits and keeping customers 6 feet apart, and warned that bars and other businesses that flout the rules could be shut down.
“We are aware of a few establishments that have advertised, I guess, some parties on social media,” Krewson said. “We are paying them a visit to be sure that they know what the rules are.”
But the mayor is also considering measures to make it easier for businesses to comply, including a plan to let some restaurants expand outdoor seating to adjacent parking lots and in some cases neighborhood streets.
“Restaurants and business associations will need to work with their alderman on this,” Krewson said. Guidelines on how to implement outside-seating expansions should be issued in the next day or so, the mayor added.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page echoed Krewson’s sentiments Monday, saying the reopening of some businesses can’t be an end to social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
“We cannot let this gradual and thoughtful reopening be looked at as a return to normal,” Page said. “It’s really far from it.”
In addition to allowing businesses like barbers and nail parlors to reopen Monday, the county reopened 21 parks that have been closed through the outbreak. The park restrooms and playgrounds, though, will remain closed and most loop trails will continue to be one-way.
Page said that officials will be watching the statistics on the rate of positive tests and hospital admissions, one of the best markers of whether reopening is triggering a resurgence of the virus.
For the past several weeks, hospitalizations in the region have been on a downward trend.
At the area’s major hospital systems — BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital — the seven-day average of hospitalizations was at 487 Monday, down more than 30% from the April 21 peak of 706.
Page said leaders will also watch the ratio of positive to negative tests, although he cautioned that an increase in testing in the county would lead to an increase in positive cases.
Public and private labs in the county now are able to test anyone with symptoms, as well as high-risk people without symptoms, Page said. Mayor Krewson said St. Louis is also anticipating more testing soon, though the mayor said it was not increasing “as quickly as we would like.”
Krewson said the city had received 20,000 tests that mostly were given to federally qualified health clinics in the city. She said delivery of a city order for 200,000 more tests has been repeatedly delayed and now is scheduled for mid-June.
Krewson said the city has issued a request for proposals to supply 100,000 tests, for which responses are due Wednesday.
Missouri nursing homes
Gov. Mike Parson also addressed testing on Monday, announcing plans to expand COVID-19 testing at facilities where people are in close contact across the state, including nursing homes, prisons and meatpacking facilities.
“We have significantly increased our testing capacity, and now we must be thinking of ways to increase the number of tests being done,” he said. “As we do this, it is important to remember that the more tests we do, the more positive cases there will be.”
On Monday, Missouri reported 156 new known cases of COVID-19 and 11 additional deaths. That brings the state’s total to 10,945 cases and 605 deaths since the start of the pandemic. The state has tested an average of about 4,700 people a day over the last week, up from 4,300 the week before.
Parson said Monday the state will deploy tests to “high-risk settings” such as long-term care facilities. Parson said 163 such facilities have had at least one known case of the new coronavirus; 91 facilities have reported cases within the past two weeks, Parson said.
He said 41 of the 91 homes have undergone facilitywide testing.
“We were able to move in quickly and be able to test everyone in those facilities,” he said, adding the state would work with the other 50 homes this week to complete facilitywide testing at those locations.
St. Louis County has the most nursing home outbreaks in the state at 47, followed by St. Louis and St. Charles County which both have 12 outbreaks at long-term care facilities.
Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said the state was exploring continuing “periodic surveillance” testing at meat-packing plants and long-term care facilities throughout the summer.
In Illinois, Gov. J.B Pritzker’s office announced Monday that the Metro East will be at the forefront of the state’s efforts to ramp up its contact tracing capabilities in the effort to fight the pandemic.
St. Clair County will be one of two counties to take part in a pilot program that aims to “massively” expand tracing, according to state officials. The health departments there and in Lake County, near Chicago, were chosen as initial partners for a collaborative approach to tracking how infected patients may have contracted the virus, and to identify those who, in turn, may have then become infected.
“These local health departments were chosen for having significant needs in terms of case numbers in vulnerable populations, a robust capacity for tracing, and great existing collaborations of public health personnel, medical students and volunteers already on the ground,” the governor’s office said in a statement.
Contact tracing efforts are underway for 29% of the state’s coronavirus cases, Pritzker said at a Monday press briefing. He said the level is well short of the “industry standard” of 60%.
“That’s a number we want to push as high as possible,” Pritzker said.
Overall, the state has now reported 96,485 cases of the virus — including 2,294 new ones announced Monday. Meanwhile, Illinois has seen at least 4,234 coronavirus deaths, with 59 additional deaths announced Monday.
Robert Patrick, Jack Suntrup and Bryce Gray of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.