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Coronavirus In The St. Louis Region: April 6-12, 2020

CareSTL Health's COVID-19 testing site in north St. Louis will reopen on April 27.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page has asked Missouri officials to ensure that voters who practice self-distancing can vote in the June 2 municipal elections.

This is archived content from our live blog following the coronavirus in the St. Louis region. View current updates here.

4:45 p.m. Sunday, April 12

In the St. Louis region, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the four major health systems has remained steady in the past 24 hours. 

According to combined data released by the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, there were 607 hospitalizations today, up from 592 yesterday. The number of patients in intensive care has gone unchanged, at 211. As of yesterday, 36 patients with COVID-19 were discharged from hospitals.

There are now 20,852 cases in Illinois, and 720 residents have died. That includes 43 in the past day, one of whom was a St. Clair County woman in her 70s. There is encouraging news on the testing front. The state reached the highest number of completed tests today, at 7,956. Gov. J.B. Pritzker said that shows things could be stabilizing.

“The percent of those tests that came out positive is almost exactly the same as it has been in the last two weeks,” Pritzker said. “And the death toll today is lower than it has been in six days. I pray as we move forward that these trends continue. And if they do, it will be because of all of you adhering to our stay-at-home order.”

Apple delivered 100,000 N95 masks to help Illinois health care workers and first responders this weekend, Pritzker said.

A new COVID-19 testing site is coming to East St. Louis. State Sen. Christopher Belt and state Rep. LaToya Greenwood said the site stems from a partnership with Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation system. There eventually will be three testing sites in the Metro East.

In a statement, Belt said the pandemic has shed a light on health care disparities, especially for black Americans. “Access to quality healthcare must be a right of every single person in this country," he said, "no matter what their socioeconomic status or zip code.”

— Marissanne Lewis-Thompson

9 a.m. Sunday, April 12

Good morning, and Happy Easter!

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a statewide remote health monitoring program Saturday to ease the burden on hospitals.

Residents who have COVID-19 symptoms or who may have been exposed but don’t need to be in the hospital will have daily virtual visits with health workers. They’ll also receive wellness kits with alcohol wipes, thermometers and blood pressure cuffs.

The service is available in parts of central Illinois and will be available to people in northern and southern Illinois next week. 

The Missouri Veterans Commission said that a resident of the St. Louis Veterans Home had died on Friday of COVID-19. The veteran had been hospitalized after testing positive for the coronavirus and had been in a St. Louis-area hospital since March 27.

Here are the latest coronavirus counts

  • St. Louis metro: 3,165 positive cases; 89 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 4,024 cases; 112 deaths.
  • Illinois: 19,180 cases; 677 deaths.

— Maria Altman

5 p.m. Saturday, April 11

The St. Louis region has seen a 26% increase in the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 or a suspected COVID-19 infection since last Sunday, Dr. Alex Garza, the head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said Saturday.

There are 592 COVID-19 patients hospitalized at SSM Health, BJC Healthcare, Mercy and St. Luke’s hospitals, according to the information they submitted to Garza. That's up from 468 last Sunday.

Garza said he can’t yet say if governments in the St. Louis region should consider extending their stay-at-home orders past mid-April, when they are set to expire.

He said the task force needs more data before he can make a recommendation, but elected officials should be “very careful about relaxing our social distancing rules.”

The virus could come roaring back if restrictions are removed too early, Garza said.

Illinois officials said Saturday that another 1,293 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 81 have died. That brings the number of positive tests in Illinois to 19,180 and the coronavirus-related deaths to 677 since the outbreak began, according to the Illinois Department of Health.

The new deaths include a woman in her 80s and a woman in her 90s, both from St. Clair County.

Illinois also launched a free texting service for people experiencing stress and other mental health issues. Illinois residents can text “TALK” or “HABLAR” and 5-5-2-0-2-0 to seek assistance. The system aims to have a counselor employed by a local mental health center respond within a day to provide support, state officials said Saturday. 

Illinois residents also can text “unemployment,” “food” and “shelter” to 5-5-2-0-2-0 to receive information about how to access social services during the coronavirus outbreak.

Julie O’Donoghue 

9:30 a.m. Saturday, April 11

Good morning, and welcome to Saturday.

Friday saw the highest daily death toll in the U.S.about 2,100, according to the data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Still, social distancing appears to be flattening the curve in several states where cases are no longer doubling.

In Missouri, evictions continue in much of the state even under the governor’s stay-at-home order. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft is asking about 40 employees to return to work on Monday.

Most Christians will be observing Easter from their homes tomorrow, but one Metro East church is holding a drive-in service

Here are the latest coronavirus counts

  • St. Louis metro: 2,987 positive cases; 79 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 3,799 cases; 99 deaths.
  • Illinois: 17,887 cases; 596 deaths.

— Maria Altman

9:30 p.m. Friday, April 10

Four more people have died in St. Louis of COVID-19. They include a Hispanic woman in her 50s, a white man in his 90s and a black man in his 70s, according to the city’s Department of Health. A woman in her 80s also died, but the department did not disclose her race or ethnicity.

At least 13 of the 17 people who have died of COVID-19 in the city were African Americans. The initial deaths led Dr. Fred Echols, the city’s health director, to note the city’s health disparities and how black residents often lack access to health care.

Experts also point to the asthma hot spots in predominantly black neighborhoods of north St. Louis, and how the respiratory condition puts African Americans at a higher risk of becoming very sick from COVID-19.

Jefferson County has recorded its third death from COVID-19, a woman in her 90s who had been hospitalized. 

Five more residents at a nursing home in St. Charles County have tested positive for the coronavirus, the facility announced Friday. The means a total of 55 residents and 10 workers at Frontier Health and Rehabilitation have tested positive. At least five residents have died from complications of COVID-19.

Nursing home officials say 26 residents have tested negative for the virus. 

Federal officials have directed nursing homes to restrict access to visitors, increase screenings for symptoms and cancel social activities to limit exposure to the virus. Many nursing home residents are elderly or suffering from chronic illnesses, making them more susceptible to the virus.. 

CenterPointe Hospital in St. Charles County has resumed taking patients after a coronavirus outbreak at the facility led officials to test 60 staff members for the virus. The hospital had 27 staff members and four patients test positive. Results on five other workers are pending. 

CenterPointe officials say workers have disinfected and cleaned areas where patients are treated. The hospital also is taking the temperature of all staff members and vendors who enter the facility.

Julie O’Donoghue

7 p.m. Friday, April 10

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page has asked Missouri officials to ensure that voters who practice self-distancing can vote in the June 2 municipal elections. The elections were previously set for April.

In a letter to Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, Page asked state officials to inform local election officials that absentee voting provisions can apply to people who are trying to avoid spreading the coronavirus. Page called for expanding absentee and early voting to limit crowds at polling places. He also suggested allowing people to witness via video conferencing the absentee ballots of voters hospitalized after the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot.

Ashcroft, who earlier today ordered 40 employees to return to work, oversees elections. He said his office intends to make sure that Missourians can safely vote.

"I don't have to know how to read an X-Ray to know how to run an election, but I need to follow and understand the guidelines that the experts are giving us about physical distancing, about decontamination," Ashcroft said.

East St. Louis is getting a coronavirus testing site. The city named Windsor Health Center at 100 North 8th St. as the location on its Facebook page, noting that it will begin operating soon. An announcement is scheduled for Monday.

Pulaski County reported its first death to COVID-19, health officials in the south-central Missouri county announced. There are 17 cases in the county.

— Ryan Delaney and Jaclyn Driscoll

4 p.m. Friday, April 10

Gov. Mike Parson signed the supplemental budget on Friday that Missouri lawmakers passed earlier this week. The bill, which gives Parson spending authority, includes $6.2 billion to help the state fight the coronavirus. Most of those funds come from the federal stimulus package. 

Parson also announced a working group to oversee the best use of how those federal dollars are spent. State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick will lead the group. 

The number of hospitalizations and people in intensive care with COVID-19 is down slightly today in the St. Louis area, but the chief of the region’s pandemic task force is still warning a surge in cases is yet to come.

Dr. Alex Garza, incident commander of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said during his daily briefing that a spike in coronavirus infections “is coming in the next couple of weeks.”

The total number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 is down from 611 yesterday to 584 today. Intensive care patients fell from 219 to 205, and the number of people requiring a ventilator dropped to 160 from 173. The area’s major hospital systems are “handing it OK with the capacity that we have,” Dr. Garza said.

XFL football is suspended. According to ESPN, the professional football operation does not plan to return to play in 2021. Staff and employees were laid off Friday morning as a result of the season’s abrupt ending due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The St. Louis BattleHawks inaugural season opened Feb. 8 against the Dallas Renegades and the team played their first home game at the America’s Center on Feb. 23. The BattleHawks closed the regular season on March 8 with a 3-2 record.

And, for those who had tickets to see "Hamilton" at the Fox, we have some bad news. "Hamilton," which was supposed to run May 5-June 7, is postponed. People who have tickets should hold onto them until new dates are announced.

— Ryan Delaney, Jaclyn Driscoll, Andrea Henderson

11:30 a.m. Friday, April 10

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft is asking roughly 40 employees to return to work in their Jefferson City offices beginning Monday, suggesting they use the handicap entrance and activate the button to open the door with their elbows. 

This comes after Gov. Mike Parson issued a stay-at-home order for all of Missouri one week ago, which also encourages employers to allow employees to work from home when possible.

“The stay-at-home order does not apply to all government business,” Ashcroft said Friday. “We shut down our building, but we shut it down to public access. We have been working every business day.” 

According to an email obtained by St. Louis Public Radio, all employees who have an office are expected to return to work. They are told to work with their office door closed and are encouraged to follow social distancing guidelines. 

Ashcroft cited answering phone calls and access to data needed to complete work that may be in employees’ offices as being among the reasons for asking employees to return. 

Ashcroft said he will be wearing a homemade mask, but he is not requiring employees to wear one. 

The Eastern District of Missouri has opened a direct email inbox for all self-represented litigants to file legal documents during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Prisoner and non-prisoner litigants should use the email box to file pleadings, new cases and present documents. Court staff will monitor the email correspondence throughout the day. The received date of the emailed documents will be the date the court received the email. Court filings should be submitted to MOED_SRL_Filings@moed.uscourts.gov. People who submit filings will receive confirmation of receipt. 

New data from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services show the disparity in the number of COVID-19 patients between white and black Missourians. About 26% of the people who have tested positive for the virus in the state are black. African Americans make up about 11.5% of the state’s population. White patients make up 34% of COVID-19 patients and comprise more than 80% of the state’s population.

You can see a variety of health data related to COVID-19 from around the state here.

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health recently asked for donations of cloth masks. One organization helping to fill in the gap is the Collective Thread, located in the garment district on Washington Avenue. 

A few weeks ago, it set out to produce thousands of cloth masks, or personal protection equipment, to donate to hospitals, jails and local health clinics — keeping its staff of primarily immigrant women working during the virus shutdown. You can read more and listen to the St. Louis On The Air segment about the Collective Thread.

— Jaclyn Driscoll and Andrea Henderson

9 a.m. Friday, April 10

Good morning, blog readers. 

We’re keeping a close eye on how flooding could affect the fight against the coronavirus. Cities along the Mississippi River say they don’t have enough protective supplies to respond to both threats at the same time. And without tourism, the economies of these cities are plummeting. Read more in our story: Cities Drained By 2019 Flood Struggle To Respond To Coronavirus Pandemic.

Local scientists are trying to develop new ways to treat or prevent COVID-19. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are working on a vaccine, testing malaria drugs and studying plasma transfusion. And St. Louis University doctors are using an experimental drug to treat hospitalized patients who test positive. 

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro: 2,767 positive cases; 69 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 3,539 cases; 88 deaths.
  • Illinois: 16,442 cases; 528 deaths.

How was your week? Do you feel like you’ve gotten used to a new normal, or are you struggling to adjust? Let me know: ltoler@stlpublicradio.org

Lindsay Toler

7:15 p.m. Thursday, April 9

People who have recovered from COVID-19 can help those who have the disease. The Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center is collecting plasma donations from people who had the disease to help St. Louis-area hospitals treat patients who’ve become seriously ill from the virus. People who tested positive for the coronavirus and have not had symptoms for at least 28 days are eligible to donate.

The FDA approved Washington University School of Medicine’s application in March to study the effectiveness of plasma transfusion. Antibodies from recovered people have been used previously to treat those who’ve become sick from the Spanish flu, Ebola virus and SARS. 

Planned Parenthood today began offering telehealth services to patients in the St. Louis region and Southwest Missouri area. The program will initially help patients who are seeking birth control or have urinary tract infections. The remote services will be available through a mobile app called PP Direct.

— Eli Chen

3:20 p.m. Thursday, April 9

Missouri schools will not reopen for the remainder of the school year, Gov. Mike Parson announced this afternoon.

"We are ordering all Missouri public and charter schools to remain closed through the remainder of the academic year with the exceptions of nutrition services and child care that are outlined in our recent health order," Parson said in a statement.

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At his daily COVID-19 press briefing in Jefferson City, Parson was flanked by state Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven.

Separately but simultaneously, school systems in the St. Louis area announced they’ll be closed through the end of May. Superintendents stressed that learning — albeit remote learning, delivered online — and meal services will continue. 

Most schools around the state closed in mid-March and had extended their closures through late April before this announcement. Officials from a few schools had already said they would not reopen this year, including two districts in Warren County. 

Parson's announcement brings Missouri in line with 17 other states that have closed schools for the rest of the school year. 

Washington University School of Medicine researchers are launching a study to test how effective anti-malarial drugs are in treating patients with COVID-19. Doctors plan to enroll 500 patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in clinical trials to test hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin.

The antimalarial drugs received much attention after President Donald Trump endorsed them in press briefings. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration last week gave hospitals emergency approval to use the drugs. There is no scientific proof that any treatment is effective at fighting the coronavirus. 

— Ryan Delaney and Eli Chen

2:25 p.m. Thursday, April 9

An emergency shelter opens today to help St. Louis’ homeless population. The city has partnered with City Hope St. Louis to operate a temporary 24-hour shelter on North Florissant Avenue near the north city-county border. The city plans to lease the building until June and has the option to extend.

The facility can house around 125 people, a spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson said. It will provide residents food, laundry and security. City Hope will also offer services for mental health, substance abuse and trauma, as well as resume writing and other job-search help.

The city is still in conversations with area hotels and motels about providing additional emergency shelters. Those in need of housing can call the St. Louis Regional Housing hotline: 314-802-5444.

Affinia Healthcare will open a coronavirus testing station in north St. Louis County on Monday. It will be located behind its Pagedale health center. Patients with an appointment can drive or walk through the mobile health center. You must call in advance for a phone screening and to set up an appointment: 314-833-2777. Affinia has also opened a testing center in the north St. Louis neighborhood of Carr Square. 

Missourians will soon have access to USDA food packages. The Missouri Department of Social Services now has approval to provide disaster food distribution programs at more than 200 food banks.

The program is expected to serve more than 90,000 Missourians through May 7, including those who are recently unemployed, those who are eldery and those with health conditions. Food packages include 25 pounds of vegetables, fruits, pasta, protein and dairy products. They will be available in some communities starting this week.

Celebrations are important, but keep that hoopla in your home. That’s what St. Louis County public health officials are advising when it comes to Passover, Easter and other life events bringing people joy during these stressful times. Officials are encouraging residents to tweak their traditions this year to allow for safe social distancing, such as celebrating with friends and family over video chat or phone calls instead of in person.

Washington University freezes staff hiring. The private university joins others, including the University of Missouri-St. Louis, in conserving resources by pausing any new hires. There are limited exceptions, including the hiring of summer research and teaching assistants with permission from the dean.

Tower Grove Park will stay open — but not to cars. The street closures in the south St. Louis public park, which is privately operated and maintained, will give pedestrians more space to maintain social distancing, park officials wrote in a statement.

— Corinne Ruff

12:20 p.m. Thursday, April 9

As we reported earlier, all 12 people in St. Louis who have died of the disease were African Americans. Now there’s an outreach campaign afoot that aims to better inform black communities about COVID-19.

The Regional Health Commission, St. Louis Department of Health and the St. Louis County Department of Public Health on Thursday launched a campaign, Prepare STL, to spread awareness about the coronavirus to vulnerable and under-resourced populations, including immigrants.

The campaign will advertise on local TV and radio stations, as well as on social media, to inform people about resources like food and child care assistance. It will include tips on how to cope with stress. This weekend, canvassers will go to ZIP codes with the highest poverty rates — many in north St. Louis and north St. Louis County — to place informational posters about COVID-19 at grocery stores, gas stations and laundromats.

More help is on the way for local small businesses. This morning, the St. Louis County Port Authority approved $1 million for the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership to help fund the Small Business Resource Fund. The goal is to get interest-free loans to businesses before federal aid shows up, St. Louis County Councilman Ernie Trakas said in a tweet. He added that Lemay and north St. Louis County will have priority. 

Round up your protective gear. St. Louis University medical students are collecting personal protective equipment for workers at SSM Health in anticipation of the peak COVID-19 case count in a few weeks. The drive is in collaboration with MedSupplyDrive, which started at Georgetown University.

The group is looking for unused masks, face shields, gloves, sanitizer and disinfectants. You can learn about how to donate here.

— Corinne Ruff

8:50 a.m. Thursday, April 9

Good morning, blog readers. Yesterday we learned that all 12 people who died of COVID-19 in St. Louis were black. It’s a sobering statistic that illustrates how this virus targets vulnerable communities. We’ll be updating our story as we learn more about the deaths and the city’s response.

Missouri has chosen its first “alternate care” site, a hotel in Florissant that will be converted into a medical facility to relieve pressure on hospitals. The hotel will house patients who could develop symptoms or who are recovering from hospital stays. Read more in our story: Florissant Hotel Being Converted To House Coronavirus Patients If Need Arises.

Here are the latest coronavirus counts

  • St. Louis metro: 2,535 positive cases; 62 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 3,327 cases; 81 deaths.
  • Illinois: 15,078 cases; 462 deaths.

— Lindsay Toler

9 p.m. Wednesday, April 8

Demetrius Cianci-Chapman, Department of Public Health director for St. Charles County, has ordered residential care facilities to follow strict guidelines after dozens of nursing home residents at one facility in the county tested positive for COVID-19.

Cianci-Chapman signed an executive order this week that, among other requirements, orders all facilities in the county to screen staff and essential visitors for health problems, discontinue personal care services such as physical therapy and require workers to wear masks and gloves when interacting with patients.

Another order requires all providers and testing facilities to report positive coronavirus test results to the county health department within six hours. The order also requires reporting of negative test results, hospitalizations and deaths within 24 hours. 

Schnucks customers will no longer be able to bring their own reusable bags to put their groceries in, the supermarket chain announced on Wednesday.

“While there are no known cases of the virus being spread through the use of reusable bags, Schnucks is taking this extra step as a precautionary measure,” store officials said in a statement.

The chain is also requesting customers wear a face mask or other covering while shopping. 

— Sarah Fentem

6:15 p.m. Wednesday, April 8

Gov. Mike Parson announced this afternoon that a north St. Louis County hotel is being converted into a health care facility to treat COVID-19 patients in case the region’s hospitals become overloaded. 

State officials and the National Guard have been scouting locations around the state that could be quickly converted to accommodate a surge in patients. Unlike other states that have housed overflow patients in large sporting arenas, Missouri will use the “hotel model” because it is easily scalable and can be used in communities of all sizes, not just large cities, MO Healthnet Director Todd Richardson said.

The Quality Inn in Florissant will be able to accommodate 130 patients, said a spokesman from the Missouri National Guard. The hotel could potentially house patients who have mild cases of COVID-19 or who have tested positive but don’t have symptoms, state officials said. 

Hazelwood Schools are warning families there will be no grab-and-go meal service this Friday, but the on-the-go food delivery service will resume on Monday.

The school district’s buses will continue to distribute five-day supplies of meals to each child at scheduled stops on Mondays only starting next week.

Hazelwood is one of many of the region’s school districts that have devised creative ways to keep kids fed when they’re away from the classroom due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Families can find the Hazelwood Schools grab-and-go meal delivery schedule here.

— Sarah Fentem

5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 8

All 12 people in St. Louis who died of COVID-19 were African Americans, the city’s health director wrote today in the St. Louis American.

Dr. Fred Echols wrote in an op-ed that the pandemic points to the local health disparities; black residents often lack access to health care and have a high incidence of diabetes and heart conditions.

He said the city needs more testing sites to slow the spread of the virus. 

“Obviously, for many of us in the black community, this access is more easily said than done,” Echols wrote.

— Chad Davis

3:20 p.m. Wednesday, April 8

The director of the St. Louis health department says it is likely that the city’s stay-at-home order will have to be extended beyond April 22.

“Based on what we’re currently seeing, with the increase in cases daily, as well as the increase in the number of deaths daily, it is likely that we will need to extend the order,” Dr. Fred Echols said Wednesday in a Facebook Live session with Mayor Lyda Krewson. “However, things may change. We continue to monitor the situation daily, and we will be implementing a data-driven and academic process whether or not to extend the stay-at-home order.”

Krewson is asking mobile providers AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon to “try and make their internet access available for free” to bridge the digital divide during the pandemic. The companies would work with the city’s chief technology officer to boost access to broadband, which is important for telemedicine and online schooling.

In addition, Krewson announced the opening of a third testing site in north St. Louis. The location at 2425 Whittier St. will be run by Care STL. Patients with symptoms of COVID-19, such as a fever, cough and shortness of breath, must call 314-367-5820 to make an appointment for testing.

Two Metro East cities furloughed more than 150 city employees because of the coronavirus. In Fairview Heights, 126 workers were indefinitely furloughed on Monday. Thirty city employees in Edwardsville were furloughed from April 8-30.

Most furloughed employees are part time and work at places that have been closed under Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, like libraries or recreation centers. Both cities made the moves to cut costs, and furloughed workers will still receive city-paid benefits. 

— Eric Schmid and Rachel Lippmann

2:15 p.m. Wednesday, April 8

The Missouri Senate has given initial approval to a supplemental budget that provides coronavirus aid to the entire state. The plan gives Gov. Mike Parson roughly $6.2 billion to spend on personal protective equipment, the Missouri National Guard, food banks and other forms of aid. Most of that money will be funneled to the state by the federal government.

“The effort here is to try to get it out to address the concerns and needs that are immediately present and urgent around the state,” said Sen. Dan Hageman, R-Cosby. 

Much of that federal money has not arrived yet, and guidance still is needed on how the funds can be used. 

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Kansas City, called it "essential for us to get down here and get this done so we can have this quick turnaround when the federal money comes in.” 

Legislators expect the federal money by the end of this month. The House is convening this afternoon and is expected to pass the measure quickly. 

Closures spurred by the coronavirus outbreak continue to pound the hospitality and entertainment industries in Missouri. 

  • Lumiere Place Casino and Hotels in St. Louis announced yesterday it will shut its doors and furlough nearly 650 workers on Saturday. Casinos in other parts of the state, including Kansas City and Boonville, also announced mass layoffs. 
  • The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Springfield, Missouri, laid off nearly 200 workers. The Texas-based movie and restaurant chain is supposed to be an anchor tenant at the City Foundry STL development near St. Louis University. 
  • Hooters, which has restaurants across the state, announced permanent layoffs of more than 300 workers. 
  • Innkeeper Hospitality Services, which operates the Seven Gables Inn, Hotel St. Louis and Route 66 Holiday Inn, began placing its 136 employees on temporary unpaid furloughs March 20.

The union that represents thousands of grocery and other retail workers in the St. Louis area is asking Parson to mandate that customers cover their faces while going grocery shopping.

“The CDC specifically mentions grocery stores in their latest recommendation that we all wear cloth facial coverings in public,” David Cook, the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, said in a statement. “Our grocery workers and pharmacy techs are doing incredible work right now, and they are putting themselves at risk to do it. More masks will slow the spread of this virus down, period.”

Cook told St. Louis on the Air’s Sarah Fenske that St. Louis County Executive Sam Page may act within the next week to issue a local order on the matter. 

Panera has begun offering grocery delivery. Customers of the St. Louis-based restaurant chain can add items like milk, bread and fresh vegetables to their orders for soups and salads, or as a standalone order. The option launched Monday but was officially announced Wednesday.

Illinois will allow remote notarization on real estate closings and related financial transactions. For as long as the state’s stay-at-home order is in effect, the requirement that someone has to “appear in front of a notary” can be met using video. The move follows a similar one made by Missouri officials Monday.

— Rachel Lippmann and Jaclyn Driscoll

11 a.m. Wednesday, April 8

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page has asked for help from the Missouri National Guard ahead of “an escalation of the COVID-19 virus” in the region. In a letter to Gov. Mike Parson yesterday, Page wrote that the Guard would be used to help transport patients and provide security at local hospitals.

Parson has mobilized the Guard but has not yet ordered the troops to deploy. There are hundreds of Illinois National Guard troops helping in their state with operating testing centers, coordinating with local health departments and other work.

More than half of Franklin County’s 62 cases are connected to a single nursing home in Washington, Missouri, according to county officials. Two women in their 80s who lived at the Grandview Healthcare Center in Washington have died.

Illinois distilleries that are making hand sanitizer are getting a tax break. Normally, distillers pay a tax that is based on the strength of the alcohol they have purchased. The state Department of Revenue announced Wednesday that distillers are eligible for a tax deduction on any alcohol they have purchased to make the sanitizer.

Several Metro East distillers, including Old Herald Brewery and Distillery in Collinsville and Stumpy’s Spirits Distillery in Columbia, have switched over at least part of their production lines to hand sanitizer.

Fort Leonard Wood now has the ability to test for the coronavirus on base, and will increase its capacity as soon as next week. The Army installation near Rolla can currently process up to 42 tests a day. Medical staff at the on-base hospital said they are expecting the delivery of another machine that can run 16 tests every 45 minutes. 

“The folks (tested) will still need to have symptoms, which include the fever and dry cough,” said Col. Kimberlie Biever, commander of the General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, citing limited numbers of testing kits. “We still won’t be testing everyone.”

The Department of Defense is mandating soldiers and civilians on base wear cloth face coverings if they are performing duties that keep them from maintaining six feet of social distancing.

Tower Grove Pride has delayed its celebration until Aug. 29, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The festival was originally scheduled for June 27. 

— Rachel Lippmann and Jonathan Ahl

9 a.m. Wednesday, April 8

Good morning. If you’re feeling a little stir-crazy, you’re not alone. Our arts reporter Jeremy Goodwin has a great story out this morning about “visiting” your favorite St. Louis cultural institution without having to leave your house. Breakfast with the otters at the St. Louis Aquarium, anyone?

We’ve been getting lots of questions about testing. If you want to know more about where and how to get tested for the coronavirus, read our story: Here’s Where You Can Get Tested For Coronavirus In The St. Louis Area.

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro: 2,302 positive cases; 58 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 3,037 cases; 76 deaths.
  • Illinois: 13,549 cases; 380 deaths.

— Lindsay Toler

8:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 7

An employee of the Bi-State Development Agency has died of COVID-19, and 14 other Bi-State employees have tested positive for the coronavirus across six of its locations. 

The regional development agency asked anyone who had close contact with those staff members to self-quarantine for 14 days. The organization said it sanitized the facilities where exposure may have occurred.

— Eric Schmid

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 7

Frontier Health and Rehabilitation in St. Charles announced Tuesday that five residents have died due to complications from the coronavirus, and 42 residents and eight workers have tested positive.

At least 49 nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Missouri have residents or workers who tested positive for COVID-19, state health officials said.

The St. Louis Archdiocese extended its suspension of public Masses through April. This includes relieving the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. Archbishop Robert J. Carlson made the decision to keep the church in compliance with state restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people. 

Parishes in the St. Louis Archdiocese will stay open for personal prayer and confessions, and parish priests will determine their own hours of operation. The archdiocese asks that parishioners follow social distancing guidelines laid out by public health officials if they still want to go to church. 

A veteran patient at a St. Louis VA hospital died of coronavirus-related complications Sunday. The patient was in their 60s. The case was previously reported as positive in an earlier count. 

Jack Dorsey, the CEO and co-founder of Twitter and Square, plans to donate $1 billion of his wealth to fund global COVID-19 relief. The gift by the St. Louis native is the largest pledged gift to date by a private individual during the pandemic.

Dorsey said on Twitter the funds would shift to support women’s health, education, and a universal basic income after the coronavirus pandemic ends. 

Eric Schmid and Eli Chen
 

4:55 p.m. Tuesday, April 7

More Missourians have filed unemployment claims so far this year than in all of 2019, Missouri Department of Labor Director Anna Hui said Tuesday. 

More than 104,000 Missiourians filed unemployment claims last week, a 147% increase over the same week last year, Hui said.

“On average, we’re receiving more than 100,000 calls and emails per day, and we know the public’s need is great,” she said. 

Department officials say unemployed workers will start receiving the $600 federal unemployment supplement as early as next week.

Gov. Mike Parson announced at his daily briefing Tuesday that first responders who contract COVID-19 while on duty will be covered through workers' compensation. The emergency rule does not apply to family members, according to the governor’s spokesperson. 

Two people who work in the St. Louis County jail have tested positive for the virus, and two detainees are also under observation for the illness, county officials said Tuesday.

The justice services and corrections medicine employees started presenting symptoms in the third and fourth weeks of March and stopped coming to work, said Doug Moore, County Executive Sam Page’s spokesman.

The first employee to test positive is out of quarantine and is not thought to have spread the virus at the facility. The jail is trying to determine whom the second employee had contact with in the jail, Moore said.

The county did not immediately release details about the detainees under observation. The jail has space to quarantine detainees if necessary, jail director Raul Banasco said last month.

St. Louis County has reduced the jail population over the past few weeks to allow for more social distancing, Banasco said.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a member of his staff tested positive for COVID-19. The governor said the person began to feel ill on March 26 and immediately went home.

“That same day, we sent everyone who works in the governor's office home and had a professional multi-hour deep cleaning done,” he said.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Pritzker has not been tested for coronavirus and that the governor said he did not have direct contact with the employee, who is recovering. 

In the 12 days since the infected staffer left the governor’s office, no other people working for the governor fell ill, Pritzker said.

A man in a St. Joseph state prison has become the first inmate to die of COVID-19 in Missouri, according to a report by the Kansas City Star. The inmate in his 50s tested positive for the coronavirus last month and was admitted to a Kansas City hospital.

An 86-year-old Madison County woman has died of COVID-19, officials said Tuesday. The woman, who died at a local hospital, is the first person in the county to die of the disease. 

The Opera Theatre of St. Louis has canceled its 2020 festival season because of the pandemic. “Until recently, I held out hope that we might adapt our festival season and still produce opera in June,” General Director Andrew Jorgensen said.

“It has become clear that it is no longer possible to present our festival,” Jorgensen said. “More importantly, it would not be safe to convene hundreds of artists, staff, and audience members night after night — we must all do our part to flatten the curve.”

Jaclyn Driscoll, Julie O’Donoghue, Eric Schmid and Jason Rosenbaum

Noon Tuesday, April 7

St. Louis County expects to receive about $175 million from the federal CARES Act over the next few weeks, county officials said. County Executive Sam Page will provide details to the St. Louis County Council at 6:30 tonight about how the state’s most populous county could benefit from the federal relief funds.

“We know that the surge of this virus will impact more of our residents,” Page said in a statement. “Meanwhile, our businesses are struggling and we have to make it possible for them to bounce back once this pandemic is over.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health and Jefferson County, Missouri, have both begun breaking down their positive coronavirus cases by ZIP code. The moves come after health departments in St. Louis and St. Louis County published similar maps last week. 

Rawlings announced that it is temporarily laying off 140 workers at its corporate headquarters in Town and Country. This comes after the company, known for its baseball equipment, laid off 130 people at its plant in Washington, Missouri, last week. 

Jason Rosenbaum

9 a.m. Tuesday, April 7

Good morning, y’all. The entire state of Missouri is officially under a stay-at-home order as of yesterday — though there are only a few new restrictions added under the stay-at-home rules compared to Gov. Mike Parson’s social distancing mandate from three weeks ago. We’re answering questions about what the stay-at-home order means for you. Ask your question here.

The call for personal protective equipment in Illinois is growing more urgent. Gov. J.B. Pritzker said hospitals alone are burning through millions of items of protective gear every 10 days. 

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro: 2,167 positive cases; 53 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 2,722 cases; at least 64 deaths. (Missouri’s statewide total is lagging behind local counts, so this count is approximate)
  • Illinois: 12,262 cases; 307 deaths.

A shoutout to the Washington University medical school class of 2021 for its excellent music video parody about social distancing. It starts with real news footage about how young people are impacted by the virus. Plus, it’s a bop.

— Lindsay Toler

7:55 p.m. Monday, April 6

The Parkway and Riverview Gardens school districts in St. Louis County have suspended their meal services to students.

The move comes after two Ferguson-Florissant School District bus drivers died over the weekend. One had tested positive for the coronavirus, and the other experienced what the district characterized as symptoms of COVID-19 before dying. 

Officials from the Parkway and Riverview Gardens district said that they were not aware of any positive cases in their schools. A release from Parkway noted that the district hoped to resume meal services to students and families after adding new safety precautions.

Fort Leonard Wood will temporarily stop receiving new recruits for basic training as part of a nationwide decision by the U.S. Army, effective today. Soldiers already in programs at the mid-Missouri base will continue training, but new classes are on hold for at least two weeks, according to an Army press release.

— Kae Petrin

5:30 p.m. Monday, April 6

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said he believes lawmakers will approve a state budget despite the coronavirus halting legislative session. He said they have until June 30, when the fiscal year ends, to fulfill that constitutional obligation. 

“I really believe by the end of June, we’ll be able, at some point, to call a special session, bring the legislators back in and be able to work on the 2021 budget,” said Parson. 

During his daily briefing, Parson also said more than 900 medical professionals have applied to join the state’s Disaster Medical Assistance Team since Saturday. 

“Let me just thank all the Missourians who stepped up, headed to the call, and over 900 of those people have volunteered to help in this crisis,” he said. 

Parson signed an executive order on Monday suspending the need for a personal appearance before a notary public in some instances. 

The St. Louis Pandemic Task Force reported increases in the number of people hospitalized for intensive care and requiring ventilators.

Task force leader Dr. Alex Garza said in a press conference today that when coronavirus cases reach the peak projected in April, regional hospitals could become overwhelmed. Garza encouraged people to stay home as much as possible to decrease the spread of the virus. 

“We will save lives if we all do our part, and the biggest part really comes from the community, so keep that in mind,” he said. “We know that the surge is coming, and we want to be able to handle that surge so that our medical systems can work as efficiently and effectively as possible.” 

The task force collects information from BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital. In those facilities, patients in the ICU increased by about 50%, while patients needing ventilators doubled. Overall, patients hospitalized with coronavirus increased from 468 to 545, according to Garza.

Madison County will receive $4.7 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to the county’s Department of Economics. More than $1.7 million of that funding is associated with the new federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act and is intended to help support the local economy.

Madison County Community Development will distribute the money. A portion of the funding will be set aside specifically for Alton and Granite City; the rest of the money will be distributed across the county. Most of the money is intended to support affordable housing, shelter homeless individuals and improve public services. Some money will be dedicated to coronavirus management efforts. 

County Board member David Michael is the grants committee chair. He said he’s excited to see the money support “locally driven projects that create jobs and contribute to economic growth.”

The Illinois State Museum is collecting stories about people’s experiences living through the COVID-19 pandemic. The museum has launched an online portal to request personal stories, written works, artwork, photos and photos of objects. The museum plans to preserve submissions in a digital archive and share some stories on social media. 

“As history is unfolding before our eyes, the Museum is committed to documenting the experiences of the people of this state,” said Illinois State Museum Curator of History Erika Holst in a press release. “Whether you’re homeschooling your kids, a doctor on the front lines, or having to cancel your graduation party, we want to hear how your life has been affected by the COVID-19.”

The St. Charles County Department of Public Health has confirmed an increase in the number of residents and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 at Frontier Health & Rehabilitation.

Thirty-five of the nursing home’s residents have now tested positive, and three have died from complications. Additionally, seven employees have tested positive. 

The facility has been trying to contain the virus since the first case was reported last month. It has separated any residents who might have been exposed and quarantined those who have tested positive. The facility has also closed its dining rooms and stopped allowing outside visits. 

The facility is still waiting on the results of 14 more tests.

And there’s an unintended consequence to so many people staying home: Missouri State Highway Patrol officers are reporting an increase in speeding because coronavirus has emptied roads, according to the state’s Department of Transportation. 

The department is reminding people to follow traffic laws and drive responsibly. 

“Please do your part to make our roadways safer and not add to the workload of our already overburdened healthcare providers,” said Nicole Hood, MoDOT state highway safety and traffic engineer, in a press release.

— Jaclyn Driscoll & Kae Petrin

3:20 p.m. Monday, April 6

More financial aid is coming to the St. Louis region.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has committed $13.6 million to support Missouri’s attempt to manage the coronavirus outbreak.

“We are fortunate to have the support of the federal government during this challenging time for our state,” Gov. Mike Parson said. “The rapid response from HUD will greatly aid us in our efforts to provide assistance to Missourians while we fight this pandemic together.”

The funds will support less populated parts of the state, such as municipalities with fewer than 50,000 residents and counties with fewer than 200,000. The money can be used to repurpose buildings into patient treatment centers, train health care workers, acquire medical supplies and support businesses that manufacture those supplies. 

The grant is part of a $57 million Community Development Block Grant program that distributes money nationwide. 

The St. Louis region’s major health care systems will also receive a $500,000 donation from the Alberici Foundation, according to foundation representatives. 

“This donation is focused on helping our community and underscores how much these front-line workers need our support,” said foundation board Chairman John Alberici. 

The donation will be shared among BJC HealthCare, Mercy and SSM Health. 

Together Credit Union is offering a host of relief options to individual and business members of the union. For individual customers, those include low-interest relief loans, payment schedule changes and refinancing options for existing loans and waived penalty fees. For businesses, those include loan deferment, interest-only payments and business lines of credit.

The former Anheuser-Busch Employees’ Credit Union has more than 130,000 members nationwide, according to representatives.

CenterPointe Hospital in St. Charles has discontinued admissions because more than 15 staff members tested positive for the coronavirus. Three patients have also tested positive. 

Hospital representatives said in a release that the hospital cannot determine the source of the virus. 

The hospital has attempted to control the spread of the virus by practicing sanitation methods recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to a release. It has also started offering remote appointments to patients who do not need to be hospitalized. Representatives said in a release that they plan to begin admitting patients again at an unspecified time in the future. 

Interfaith Food Pantry in Belleville is requesting donations of personal protective equipment, including cloth masks, disposable gloves and bottles of 70% alcohol. 

— Kae Petrin

12:30 p.m. Monday, April 6

St. Louis opened a new 24-hour homeless shelter for 60 days starting Monday. The facility would be open to people who have COVID-19 and to those who aren’t infected. Each person would undergo a health screening before being admitted.

“If someone were to be diagnosed with COVID-19, yes, we believe we would have enough available space and flexibility to safely and securely house them in quarantine without potentially exposing them to others,” said Jacob Long, Mayor Lyda Krewson’s spokesman. 

The city is partnering with City Hope St. Louis to manage the facility at a former Little Sisters of the Poor property on North Florissant Road, according to a press release from Krewson’s office. The city is paying $40,000 per month to rent the facility. Long said the city hopes the cost will eventually be reimbursed by the federal government.

The Krewson administration said staff and residents will be provided personal protective equipment and security at the site. It also said the city has the option to extend the shelter’s lease past 60 days if needed. 

Life skills, job search support and substance abuse programs will be offered on site. 

St. Louis County is asking for cloth mask donations. The county’s department of health said in a written statement that it doesn’t think it currently has enough masks in its supply to meet the forthcoming demand. It’s asking for cloth masks for those serving in “support and in-direct roles” so it can preserve its N95 medical-grade masks for first responders and health care workers, according to a county press release. 

North St. Louis has gotten its second coronavirus testing site this week. CareSTL Health is hosting it at its 5471 Martin Luther King Drive facility in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood. People who want to be tested must make an appointment first.

The other testing site in the north city opened at the end of last month in the Carr Square neighborhood. Affinia Healthcare is running that site at 1717 Biddle St.

Over the weekend, local grocery store chains Schnucks and Dierbergs started asking people to only send one family member at a time into their stores in order to slow the spread of coronavirus. Schnucks said this policy will be somewhat flexible at its locations. Single parents with children or people who otherwise need assistance while shopping will be able to shop with other family members. 

— Julie O’Donoghue

9:30 a.m. Monday, April 6

Good morning. Missouri’s general revenue tax collections were down $32 million, or 4.2%, last month compared to March 2019, according to figures released Monday by state Budget Director Dan Haug. The collections include revenue from sales, personal income and corporate taxes.

State budget leaders expected the decrease after Gov. Mike Parson and local government leaders last month started putting restrictions on businesses — in some cases shutting them down — to slow the spread of coronavirus. Anticipating the revenue drop, the governor has frozen about $180 million in planned state spending. The freeze is expected to affect public higher education institutions across the state. 

St. Louis University is housing medical workers who need to isolate themselves to prevent exposing their families to the coronavirus during the outbreak. The university will house the workers in Reinert Hall and Grand Forest Apartments. 

Here are the latest coronavirus counts:

As you may notice, the counts in Missouri don’t totally line up; there are likely more deaths in Missouri than the state’s website is reporting this morning. That’s because of a disconnect between reporting numbers on a state and local level. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a good article about why this is. (And Missouri is not alone.) We’ve included attribution today to help you understand what numbers are available right now, and we’ll update you with the latest numbers every morning. Have questions? Email Lindsay at ltoler@stlpublicradio.org

— Julie O'Donoghue and Lindsay TolerRead updates from last week or earlier in our blog archive

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