Missouri recorded its lowest tally of new COVID-19 cases in more than three weeks Tuesday.
The pandemic has slowed in all but the St. Louis metro region and a few hotspots associated with meatpacking plants and a state prison in southeast Missouri.
Of the 134 new cases reported Tuesday by the Department of Health and Senior Services, 100 were in St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County. Another five were in Buchanan County, where the state tested workers at the Triumph Foods processing plant, and two more were reported in Saline County, which has the state’s highest infection rate.
There was also good news for cities and counties. At a meeting of the CARES Act Funding Working Group in Jefferson City, State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick released a list of allocations from $521 million in federal funding that will go to local governments for coronavirus-related expenses.
Gov. Mike Parson, in his daily briefing, offered more good news about the seemingly abating pandemic. He gave details on the availability of hospital beds, saying that it shows Missouri can handle additional cases without strain if additional hotspots develop.
Missouri hospitalizations peaked on April 7, Parson said, when there were 1,242 inpatients with COVID-19. Since then, hospitalizations have decreased everywhere in the state except in the St. Louis metropolitan area.
In Boone County, there were two confirmed COVID-19 inpatients at Boone Hospital Center and three at University of Missouri Hospital.
According to the Tuesday report from the Missouri Hospital Association, there are 648 intensive care unit beds and 1,651 mechanical ventilators available for patients who need them. Hospital use, along with testing availability, stocks of protective gear and the ability to respond to outbreaks, are the four measures Parson used to lift the state stay-at-home order after Sunday.
“We are in a good place with each of these pillars and confident we are ready to move forward,” Parson said Tuesday.
The state report on coronavirus infections showed there have been 7,303 infections confirmed by testing and 314 deaths since the first case in the state was confirmed on March 7.
The discovery of new cases in Saline County slowed, with only two new cases reported Tuesday. The county has now reported 170.
There have been coronavirus infections found in 99 of the state’s 117 local health department jurisdictions and deaths in 33 counties.
In local areas, the counts for Boone and Greene counties remained stable Tuesday. The Columbia-Boone County Health Department reported one new case and 93 total infections confirmed by testing since mid-March. There are three active cases, with 89 people recovered and one death. State data shows 99 infections have been found among Boone County residents.
In Greene County, the state count showed a decrease of one Tuesday, with 82 recorded cases.
Parson’s brought leaders of business and industry to the microphone during his daily briefing to explain the economic damage done by COVID-19 and why it is important to reopen quickly.
Dan Mehan, CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, said the shutdown has caused a significant strain on businesses. A recent survey showed that Missouri businesses expect to lose a quarter of their revenue for the year, and that 15% of firms, primarily smaller employers, will likely go out of business.
The city and county funding under the CARES Act is being distributed on a per-person basis. Boone County will get $21.2 million and Greene County will receive $34.4 million.
The money cannot be spent for general needs, but will relieve local budgets of the burden of purchasing protective gear and extra services to respond to the pandemic, said state Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia and a member of the working group.
And it will come just before cities and counties receive their next distribution of sales tax revenue, expected to be off dramatically because of depressed sales under stay-at-home orders.
“I suspect on May 7 we will see staggeringly depleted sales tax numbers,” Boone County Treasurer Tom Darrough said.
The end of the state stay-at-home order on Sunday will not mean a return to on-site work at the University of Missouri. In a memo to faculty and staff, Vice Chancellor of Operations Gary Ward said the university is working to disinfect the campus and planning for a return to normal operations in the fall.
“At this time, the university continues to operate under a directive from President and Interim Chancellor Mun Choi that states no one may physically work on the Mizzou campus or in UM System offices unless they are requested to do so by an appropriate supervisor,” Ward wrote. “We will continue under our current arrangement until further notice.”
Parson’s reopening order will not apply to St. Louis, St. Louis County, Kansas City or Jackson County. Democratic leaders in the state’s four largest jurisdictions have said they won’t reopen until mid-May at the earliest.
The statewide order allows religious services to resume, but black pastors in St. Louis worry that it's too soon.
Officials with the St. Louis Clergy Coalition said they’re concerned that reopening churches will worsen the pandemic in the already hard-hit black community. About 30% of all cases in Missouri — and 40% of deaths — involve black residents, even though just 12% of the state's population is black. The percentage is even worse in the St. Louis area, which makes up more than half of all cases and two-thirds of all deaths in the state.
The coalition’s president, Bishop Elijah Hankerson, said in a statement that medical professionals, “not the politicians,” should decide when it's safe to go back to church.
Another black leader, pastor and activist Darryl Gray, agreed.
“Why should people who are already suffering disproportionately in so many other ways subject themselves to sickness and possible death?” Gray asked.
The Missouri Democratic Party announced that the 2020 Democratic State Convention will be held virtually rather than in-person, due to the virus.
That convention, usually held in June or July, will come at a time when the state will be ready to handle hotspots, state Health Director Randall Williams said.
“Our goal going forward in a comprehensive testing strategy in June, July and August, to use tests for surveillance and to handle outbreaks,” Williams said.
While there appears to be some slowdown in the pandemic in Missouri, there were 26,689 new cases nationally in the 24 hours before 5 p.m. Tuesday, close to the average of the past three weeks, and an additional 2,630 deaths, above the recent average.
The U.S. passed 1 million total confirmed cases of COVID-19 and had 58,365 deaths as of Tuesday afternoon — more than the 58,193 killed in the Vietnam War.
Nationally, the pandemic does not seem to be slowing. As of Monday afternoon, the U.S. had more than 983,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, up about 27,000 since Monday.
Worldwide, the virus is known to have infected more than 3.1 million people and is blamed for more than 216,00 deaths.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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