St. Louis County may face renewed restrictions

By Jim Salter The Associated Press

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s largest county offered a dire warning to its 1 million residents on Monday: New restrictions will be necessary unless the coronavirus surge is brought under control.

St. Louis County already requires face coverings and has imposed other restrictions, but Democratic Executive Sam Page said at a news conference that with cases rising again and hospitals filling quickly, more drastic measures could be announced next week.

“No one wants to shut down our economy, and no one wants more restrictions,” Page said. “We understand how harmful that will be. But we can’t stand by as this virus continues to rage in our community.”

Missouri is among dozens of states seeing a big increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. After reaching new records in cases several times last week, culminating with a high of 4,559 on Saturday, the state health department reported better numbers Monday — 3,244 new cases and no new deaths.

It’s too early to tell if that was a one-day blip or the start of a trend.

State data showed Missouri’s positivity rate at 19.5% — nearly four times the benchmark suggested by the World Health Organization. Missouri has now reported 212,441 confirmed cases and 3,153 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

On Sunday, Dr. Alex Garza of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, cited a “frightening” amount of virus in the St. Louis area, and he warned that hospitals are increasingly overwhelmed. Average daily hospitalizations and admissions have more than doubled over the past month at St. Louis-area hospitals.

“There is really no safe harbor now, whether it’s rural, suburban or urban — we’re seeing admissions from all over,” Garza said.

Page didn’t specify what new restrictions were on the table. For now, he urged residents to avoid personal interactions when possible; wear a mask everywhere except at home; identify a group of 10 people or fewer to come into regular contact with; and to self-quarantine for two weeks after travel or attending a larger event.

“We have one last chance to slow the cases of COVID-19 here in our community before we are forced to take action,” Page said.

As evidence that some in the community still aren’t taking the necessary precautions, Page cited a Halloween party involving up to 200 high school students. At least five have already tested positive for the virus, he said.

St. Louis city also isn’t ruling out new restrictions, said Jacob Long, spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson, also a Democrat. A new shutdown “remains a possibility for the city if we don’t see a dramatic change in personal behavior to gain stronger compliance in mask wearing and smaller personal gatherings,” Long said in a statement.

Springfield, Missouri’s third-largest city, isn’t currently weighing a new shutdown, spokeswoman Cora Scott said. Messages left with officials in Kansas City, Jackson County and Columbia were not immediately returned.

In the Kansas City metropolitan area, the seven-day average for new cases was 794 per day, the Kansas City Star reported. Two weeks ago, the seven-day average was 364.