COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Missouri reached a grim new milestone in its battle with the coronavirus on Tuesday, surpassing 1,000 deaths amid a resurgence of the disease that has seen cases skyrocket in recent weeks.
"That’s 1,000 people that lost their lives due to COVID-19," Gov. Mike Parson said Tuesday. "I think we all need to remember that."
The state health department raised the death toll by 17, to 1,015, and added more than 500 confirmed cases to the statewide tally, raising it to 21,551 since the pandemic started. The number of confirmed cases has quickly increased since the state reopened for business on June 16, swelling by 10.9% in just the last seven days, health officials said.
There are no statewide rules on social distancing currently in place in Missouri. Still, health department Director Randall Williams urged people to continue handwashing and social distancing or wearing masks, especially on July 4.
"Going into this weekend, even if you're outside, we really, really would encourage you to practice social distancing," Williams said.
Despite the worsening situation, the University of Missouri is preparing to welcome back students for on-campus classes this fall. The university said Monday that it will require students, faculty and staff to wear masks in classrooms when on-campus classes resume in August, though those plans could change depending on the coronavirus situation.
The university, which moved all classes online in March because of the pandemic, announced plans for returning to campus on Monday but said preparations were also being made to return to remote instruction if public health conditions require it.
Face coverings will be recommended in buildings where social distancing is not possible, and students, faculty and staff will be expected to provide their own masks, although some will be available for students who forget to bring them to class.
Students also will be required to take online training on the practices and expectations for the fall semester before arriving on campus. Some housing has been set aside to isolate people who test positive for COVID-19 and quarantine people who were in contact with them.
"We will continue to evaluate procedures that emphasize safety on our campus," Missouri System President Mun Choi said in a statement. "New campus policies will impact nearly every aspect of campus life, including how we live, study and work. Our success will depend on everyone in our community sharing responsibility in our collective health and well-being."
Columbia Public Schools announced Monday that the district will join the university in requiring faces masks when classes resume, with some exceptions. And the Columbia City Council is considering an ordinance requiring that most residents use masks outdoors, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported.
The decision comes as some Missouri cities consider requiring masks. Kansas City began requiring people to wear masks on Monday and Jackson County will enact the mandate Wednesday. The Joplin City Council last week narrowly rejected an ordinance to require mask wearing in public.
Parson said he had no plans to issue a statewide order mandating that people wear masks in some circumstances.