Returning university students asked to skip parties
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Students moving back to campus at the University of Missouri this week are being asked to avoid back-to-school parties and crowded bars and restaurants to help prevent further spread of the coronavirus.
Columbia Mayor Brian Treece, along with university and city officials, on Tuesday warned that unsafe gatherings could force the school to revert to remote learning. He also asked city residents to cooperate with efforts to reduce exposure to the virus, saying removing the option for in-person learning would also hurt the city's economy, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported.
“None of us are in this alone,” Treece said. “Our individual actions affect the lives of everyone.”
Stephanie Browning, director of the Columbia/Boone County health department, said COVID-19 cases in Columbia would inevitably rise as students return but that "we do have some control here.”
As of Tuesday, Boone County had reported 1,462 confirmed cases since mid-March, with many cases in recent weeks among people college age or younger. During the seven days through Tuesday, 36.6% of the 181 confirmed new cases have been in people under age 25.
Mun Choi, president of the University of Missouri system, said the university is reopening during “probably the most challenging period that we’ve faced in 75 years,” since the end of World War II.
“Our actions or lack of actions can have an impact on our community,” he said.
About 85% of the 1,575 freshmen are expected to move into dorms at St. Louis University this week before classes — many of them remote — begin Monday. The university will give students rapid COVID-19 tests before move in and those who test positive will stay in isolation rooms.
“Yes we have some protocols," said President Fred Pestello. "We’re not going to be able to shake hands and hug each other (but) overwhelmingly we heard from our student body that they want to be in community with each other.”
No statewide action
Meanwhile, the state’s top health official has insisted that a statewide mandate for masks and social distancing doesn't make sense, even though the federal government has designated the state a “red zone” for new coronavirus cases.
The designation is cause for concern, said Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
“The red is a warning that we take very seriously,” Williams told KCUR-FM radio. “What I tell people is: What does red mean? It means you stop, you use caution.”
The federal government gives a red zone designation to states with positivity rates above 10%, or with more than 100 new weekly cases per every 100,000 people.
“Missouri is a very diverse state … it doesn’t lend itself to that kind of one-size-fits-all strategy,” Williams said.
The state health department reported Tuesday that Missouri has confirmed 981 more cases in the last 24 hours, taking the state’s tally to 60,935. The number of actual cases is thought to be far higher because people can be infected with the virus without feeling ill and because of a lack of testing, particularly early in the pandemic.
The department also reported another five coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the state’s total to 1,312.
The seven-day positivity rate was reported to be 11.6%.
Williams argued most of the new cases are in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, and that a statewide stay-at-home mandate like the one the governor ordered in April wouldn't be as effective as what he calls a “clinical” strategy that supports local officials.
But Chris Prener, a sociologist at St. Louis University who has been tracking the COVID-19 data, countered that the virus has now spread far more across the state than in the spring.
Health officials earlier this summer blamed outbreaks in nursing homes, jails and meatpacking plants for the rise in reported cases, but the virus is now spreading more freely among counties without links to those crowded facilities.
The federal task force’s July 26 report named Joplin, Branson, Sedalia, Kennett and Hannibal as “red zone” cities, while McDonald, Newton, Taney, Polk and Pettis counties were among 13 counties also listed as areas of high concern.
“Missouri as a state is trending in the wrong direction,” St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said. “The cases of COVID-19 are moving up in the south, people in Missouri tend to travel a lot, and we believe that’s associated with an increased rate of COVID in our community.”