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Coronavirus In The St. Louis Region: May 18-24, 2020

CareSTL Health's COVID-19 testing site in north St. Louis will reopen on April 27.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio
Retail businesses have had to change how they operate because of restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic. The longer it lasts, the more likely these changes will be permanent.

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

8 a.m. Sunday, May 24

Welcome to a sunny Sunday morning! We hope you enjoy the blue skies before thunderstorms move in later today.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services announced yesterday it will now separate data on viral coronavirus and antibody testing. The viral test shows whether a person is actively infected, while the antibody test shows whether they ever had the virus. The Kansas City Star reported that with the change, the state’s percentage of those tested who are infected with the coronavirus increased from 6.5% positive to 8.3%.

In the St. Louis region, the number of inpatient COVID-19 hospitalizations has dropped at the area’s four major health systems.

According to the latest data from the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, the number of patients on ventilators fell from 74 to 65 yesterday. So far, there have been 2,075 COVID-19 patients discharged from system hospitals throughout the region.

The University of Missouri-St. Louis has announced it's waiving all online fees for the upcoming fall semester. University Chancellor Kristin Sobolik said the waiver is to help ease the financial burden that families and students are facing during the pandemic.

“We must remain focused on doing everything possible to ensure they continue their academic progress, graduate and succeed in the workforce,” Sobolik said.

Online courses for the summer have already been waived. 

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro (bi-state): 9,529 positive cases; 737 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 11,752 cases; 684 deaths.
  • Illinois: 107,796 cases; 4,790 deaths.

— Maria Altman and Marissanne Lewis-Thompson

9 a.m. Saturday, May 23

Good morning! We hope you’re enjoying the start of your Memorial Day weekend.

This week saw the reopening of many businesses in St. Louis and St. Louis County. Both the city and county announced yesterday that gyms likely will be able to reopen June 15, with restrictions. The city and county library systems also expect to open in limited capacity beginning next month. 

Washington University announced this week that its researchers will lead an international study to test whether the malaria drug chloroquine can prevent coronavirus infection.

Missouri had 30 COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, the highest death toll in the state so far during the pandemic, and there are indications that the numbers might be much higher than have been recorded.

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro (bi-state): 9,377 positive cases; 730 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 11,558 cases; 681 deaths.
  • Illinois: 105,444 cases; 4,715 deaths.

— Maria Altman

8:50 p.m. Friday, May 22

The Missouri Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether the state should lift some restrictions on voting during the COVID-19 pandemic. The court’s decision follows Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem’s dismissal of a lawsuit the ACLU of Missouri and the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition filed against state officials. The suit seeks to ensure that eligible voters who are isolating themselves to prevent the spread of the coronavirus can cast an absentee ballot.

Last week, the Missouri Legislature voted to allow any registered voter the option to vote by mail, but voters will need to obtain a notary seal on their ballot envelope. Only those who are infected with COVID-19 and those who are at high risk of having complications from the disease cast absentee ballots without a notary.

Starting next week, Missouri health officials will offer free coronavirus tests in St. Charles and Jefferson Counties as part of their push to reach 7,500 tests per day. State officials aim to test nearly 10,000 people over a 10-day period in several counties to determine the prevalence of the virus. Health department officials say anyone who wants a test should register online.

Eric Schmid

4:20 p.m. Friday, May 22

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker is encouraging nearly 5,500 child care facilities to reopen when parts of the state move to the next phase of his reopening plan on May 29. Pritzker said Friday that child care is crucial if large portions of Illinois’ workforce are going to return to their jobs.

Larger providers will have a limit of 10 children per classroom in the first four weeks after reopening, Pritzker said. After that, those facilities will be able to take care of more children, but at a capacity that’s 30% lower than what it was before the pandemic, he added. Most licensed homes will be able to operate at their standard capacity because they don’t have as many children, Pritzker said.

Child care providers were deemed essential under Pritzker’s stay-at-home order to take care of essential workers’ children. Since March, the state has not seen significant COVID-19 transmission in child care facilities, Pritzker said. 

St. Louis County is moving forward with tentative plans to open pools, gyms and athletic fields although without the presence of fans. County Executive Sam Page said Friday his staff is finalizing the guidelines that will allow the venues to open while still maintaining protections against the spread of the coronavirus.

Page said June 15 is a target date but that could change depending on what the data shows in the coming weeks about the number of new cases and hospitalizations. He said the data is especially relevant for opening gyms where social distancing is a challenge and people working out without masks can spread germs in a wide radius. A federal judge on Friday ordered two St. Louis County fitness centers that opened in defiance of the order to close, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The county isn’t alone in loosening restrictions on gyms and fitness centers. St. Louis’ fitness addicts will also be able to get their sweat on, with restrictions, starting June 15, per Mayor Lyda Krewson. 

Ameren and the Missouri Public Service Commission have come to a new agreement on a settlement to a rate lawsuit. Under the revised agreement, half of the $7 million judgment will go toward helping low-income customers affected by the coronavirus to pay their bills and the other half will go toward weatherizing low-income customers’ homes.

Originally, the $7 million was slated to go only to weatherizing, but Ameren and the commission modified it in light of economic struggles because of the pandemic. That $7 million was part of a larger action reducing Ameren’s annual electric revenue by $32 million. 

The economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus shot Missouri’s unemployment rate up to 9.7% in April. That compares to 3.9% in March and 3.2% in April of last year. The seasonally adjusted total number of jobs in the state decreased by more than 300,000, the largest one-month decline since the state started collecting such data in 1990.

The state’s rate is well below the national average of 14.7%, and, according to the personal finance website wallethub.com, Missouri has the eighth-slowest increase in unemployment in the nation since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

— Eric Schmid and Jonathan Ahl

9 a.m. Friday, May 22

Good morning.

Today’s feature follows St. Louis-area businesses as they begin to reopen. There are official restrictions on occupancy and sanitation, but a lot about reopening is being left up to individual businesses.

Read our story from business reporter Corinne Ruff: Many St. Louis-Area Businesses Reopened This Week. Others Feel Pressure To Do The Same

Community pools are considering whether to reopen for Memorial Day weekend, and we want to know what you think. If pools are open, would you go? Are you a parent or pool regular trying to decide whether it’s safe to swim? If you’re willing to talk to a reporter about your answer, send me an email: ltoler@stlpublicradio.org

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro (bi-state): 9,248 positive cases; 707 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 11,340 cases; 661 deaths.
  • Illinois: 102,686 cases; 4,607 deaths.

— Lindsay Toler

5 p.m. Thursday, May 21

Missouri is sending thousands of coronavirus testing kits to the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force to help get better data on the state of the virus.

Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday that 9,000 tests were already delivered, with another 9,000 arriving next week.

The tests will be paid for from the state’s federal grant to combat the coronavirus. It’s part of the state’s community sampling to test anyone who wants one, even if they don’t have symptoms. Those results can shed light on the number of asymptomatic carriers and prevalence of the virus.

The Missouri Botanical Garden is planning to reopen to the public on June 16.

The outdoor garden will reopen with one-way paths through the grounds to allow for social distancing. Indoor spaces and the children’s garden and water play areas will remain closed.

Visitors will have to wear face coverings and buy e-tickets in advance for a specific 60-minute time slot. 

The garden’s Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit will also open June 16 with similar restrictions. The Butterfly House, a garden site located in Chesterfield, is working to develop an opening plan soon.

— Jonathan Ahl

9 a.m. Thursday, May 21

Good morning. The big story this week has been how businesses in the region reopen as stay-at-home rules change. Today, we have updates from Rolla and the Metro East on how business owners, employees and customers are responding. As Angela Harris, owner of EdgyChic Boutique in Fairview Heights and Florissant, told us, “Believe it or not, people are ready to shop.”

Illinois House members voted 81-27 to remove a southeastern Illinois Republican from the floor for failing to wear a face covering. Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Louisville, was escorted out of the Bank of Springfield Center by security. Read more from NPR Illinois: House Rep. Ejected For Face Mask Rule-Breaking, State Lawmakers Greeted By Protests

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro (bi-state): 9,113 positive cases; 685 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 11,232 cases; 643 deaths.
  • Illinois: 100,418 cases; 4,525 deaths.

Join us tonight for the STLPR House Show, our new livestream concert series. Starting at 8 p.m., see performances by country-western duo the Southwest Watson Sweethearts and jazz/pop singer-songwriter Paige Alyssa. 

— Lindsay Toler

5:20 p.m. Wednesday, May 20

Parents, get ready. Children can attend summer day camps in St. Louis starting June 1. St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said this afternoon that children can head to day camps that follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Camp Association. Some restrictions include smaller camp sizes, no field trips and no overnight camps. 

St. Louis County residents will be able to take a dip in a public pool this summer. County Executive Sam Page said this morning that pools in the county will reopen sometime in early June.

“We know that there are a lot of kids and parents in our community that are waiting and hoping for pools to get open,” Page said. Specifics on timing and what types of restrictions will be in place will be announced later. The county parks department operates four outdoor pools. 

Apartment complexes and condo associations in the St. Louis can open their pools on June 1,  Mayor Krewson said. The operators will be required to clean pool chairs and other equipment after each use and must post guidance around the pools about how to reduce the spread of coronavirus while swimming. Poolgoers must wear masks while on the pool deck.

“At this point, we don’t believe city pools and outdoor pools will open this summer, partly because they do not have any lifeguards hired,” Krewson said. 

Some large venues in St. Louis, including the Missouri Botanical Garden, are expected to open the second week of June, but visitors will be required to remain six feet apart and wear masks. If there are significant increases in hospitalizations or patients needing ICU care in the city, “some of these things will get pulled back,” Krewson said. “It all depends on our behavior.”

Missouri educators should brace for more funding cuts in the coming weeks, Gov. Mike Parson told them today. The governor spoke to the leaders of public colleges and universities as well as K-12 school district superintendents about ongoing funding challenges. 

Parson said the cuts would come before the end of the fiscal year in June but did not provide details about what would get axed. He said the reductions would be part a half-billion dollars worth of cuts to the state budget. 

Illinois’ response to the coronavirus hit two milestones today: one positive, the other grim. State health officials said this afternoon the number of patients in the hospital being treated for the coronavirus is at its lowest level since the state began tracking that data in mid-April. But Illinois also passed the tally of 100,000 people testing positive for the virus; more than 4,500 people in the state have died of COVID-19.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Prizker will allow bars to begin serving drinks a little sooner. He said bars will now be allowed to open for outdoor seating under the third phase of his reopening plan, which is scheduled to kick in across most of the state nine days from now. 

Allowing for patio service will “give our hospitality industry a much-needed boost,” Pritzker said. Drinking and dining inside will remain blocked for now, he said.

The animals at the St. Louis Zoo will soon be available by appointment. The zoo said today it’ll reopen to visitors on June 13, but only for people with reservations. The zoo will start accepting free reservations online and over the phone starting June 8. The grounds will be open seven days a week. Guests over the age of 9 who don’t have difficulty breathing will be required to wear masks while visiting.

Civilians living on Fort Leonard Wood will soon be able to travel a short distance from base. The base’s command says family members and civilian employees will be able to venture 60 miles from base; if they go farther, they’ll have to submit to a health screening when they return. Soldiers will still be required to remain at their posts. 

— Ryan Delaney and Andrea Henderson

9:10 a.m. Wednesday, May 20

Good morning.

Doctors in the St. Louis area are monitoring at least four cases of a rare childhood illness linked to COVID-19. The emergence of the sickness known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome means children may not be as safe from the coronavirus as public health experts initially thought, doctors said. Read more: Rare COVID-Linked Illness Affects Children In St. Louis Region

St. Louis has decided to not issue earnings tax refunds to people working from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Expect the issue to go to court. Read more: St. Louis To Deny Earnings Tax Refunds To Remote Workers

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro (bi-state): 9,038 positive cases; 675 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 11,080 cases; 636 deaths.
  • Illinois: 98,030 cases; 4,379 deaths.

— Lindsay Toler

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 19

Walter Barton was executed Tuesday evening at the state prison in Bonne Terre.

Barton is the first person to be executed in the U.S. since March 5. Texas and Tennessee have postponed scheduled executions during the coronavirus outbreak.

Barton was sentenced to death for the 1991 murder of an elderly woman at her home near Springfield.

Several groups, including the American Bar Association and the Innocence Project, asked Gov. Mike Parson to postpone Barton’s execution, but Parson declined to intervene.

— Shahla Farzan

4:55 p.m. Tuesday, May 19

Missouri plans to significantly boost the number of people receiving coronavirus tests. State officials say 154,000 people in Missouri have received a test since March 7. The state will begin testing 7,500 people per day within the next week, Gov. Mike Parson said.

“It is critical to understand that the more tests we do, the more positive cases there will be,” Parson said during a press briefing Tuesday. “By increasing testing, we can continue to slow the spread by identifying positive patients and isolating them as quickly as possible.”

BJC Healthcare has furloughed 2,962 employees in St. Louis, or nearly 10% of its staff. Employees could be off without pay for eight weeks, but some could return sooner depending on patient volumes, a BJC spokesperson said. The health care nonprofit will cover medical and dental premiums for employees during the furlough.

Hospital systems have struggled financially during the pandemic due to the costs of preparing for a surge of patients with the coronavirus. They also saw fewer patients after canceling nonemergency procedures to limit the spread of the virus. SSM Health furloughed 2,000 workers at the beginning of May. 

Doctors in the St. Louis region say youth and high school sports can resume as early as June 15. The recommendations from BJC, Mercy and SSM health system officials include conducting health screenings before any activity, avoiding the use of locker rooms, not allowing spectators or team huddles, coaches wearing masks and — sorry, kids — no handshakes or fist bumps.

Restaurants and bars in St. Louis can apply for a free city permit to expand outdoor seating areas. City officials are encouraging restaurants to expand their dining areas onto private property, sidewalks and streets.

Drivers in Missouri will have more time to renew expired vehicle registrations. The Missouri Department of Revenue has extended the vehicle registration deadline to May 31 for license plates that expired in March. Vehicles with plates that expired in April will have until June 30 to renew without paying a late penalty. Drivers who were automatically charged a late fee can request a refund.

The University of Missouri-St. Louis will temporarily cut salaries for half of its faculty and staff starting June 1. The university will cut the pay of employees who earn more than $50,000 a year by 2.5% to 10%. UMSL will not reduce the salaries of employees who earn less than $50,000, or nearly half of university employees. The cuts affect employees of St. Louis Public Radio. The University of Missouri’s Board of Curators holds the station’s license.

— Shahla Farzan and Eli Chen

9 a.m. Tuesday, May 19

Good morning. 

We talked to thrift stores, hair salons, restaurants, gyms and massage parlors about reopening under revised rules in St. Louis. They reported that business was brisk yesterday. Read more: Eager Customers Flood Local Businesses As The St. Louis Region Reopens.

St. Louis reported its 100th death related to the coronavirus yesterday. More than 1,680 people have tested positive in the city, according to data it has made public online. The city reported its first death on March 23.

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro (bi-state): 8,917 positive cases; 649 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 10,945 cases; 614 deaths.
  • Illinois: 96,485 cases; 4,234 deaths.

— Lindsay Toler

5:20 p.m. Monday, May 18

Disease tracing in Illinois will dramatically increase in the coming weeks, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday. 

The Illinois Department of Public Health will oversee the contact tracers, who track down and contact people who may have been exposed to a person who tests positive for COVID-19.

County health departments will be in charge of contact tracing but will use state health department software, Pritzker said. St. Clair County will be among the first to pilot the program. 

State officials also announced a new emergency rule for local law enforcement to punish businesses violating the state’s stay-at-home order. 

Police will now be able to issue a misdemeanor charge to businesses that remain open during the pandemic. Officials were previously only able to enforce the rules by revoking licenses or closing businesses.  

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page says he expects day camps to operate this summer. 

Page said Monday he likely will issue guidelines to camp operators by the end of the week, and he expects them to be similar to the ones for other child care providers. Day cares in the county reopened to all parents on Monday. 

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson also said Monday that summer camps in the city will likely reopen in mid-June. But she said it is unlikely that the city’s recreation centers will open. She announced earlier this month that the city’s pools will remain closed for the summer.

Parking enforcement is returning to St. Louis next month.

St. Louis officials will begin enforcing street parking rules on June 1. On June 8, they’ll start issuing tickets for meter violations. 

— Rachel Lippmann and Sarah Fentem

9 a.m. Monday, May 18

Good morning. Today, some businesses will be reopening in St. Louis and St. Louis County. You can expect to see malls, gyms, salons, parks and restaurants opening under new restrictions, such as required masks and limited occupancy. For more: Your Guide To What Will (And Won’t) Be Reopening In The St. Louis Area

Some restaurants say it’s too early for them to reopen to dine-in service — especially if they’ll have to close again due to future outbreaks. “It’s already such a big hit to the restaurant economy that if we open for a month or two and have to do this all over again, I don’t know if we’re coming back,” said Gerard Craft, owner and executive chef of Niche Food Group. Read our interviews with restaurant owners: Some St. Louis-Area Restaurants Are Ready For Business, Others Want To Wait And See

Expect to see a surge in reports of businesses not following the new health and safety guidelines this week. Citizens in St. Louis and St. Louis County reported more than 1,000 alleged stay-at-home order violations — most by businesses — in the weeks after local orders closed nonessential businesses. People can report violations to St. Louis and St. Louis County online, by email and by phone. 

For more about how the region is handling violations of stay-at-home orders, tune in at 8 tonight for a livestream conversation with reporter Kae Petrin. Join us at twitch.tv/stlpublicradio.

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro (bi-state): 8,845 positive cases; 647 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 10,789 cases; 607 deaths.
  • Illinois: 94,191 cases; 4,177 deaths.

— Lindsay Toler

Read updates from last week or earlier in our blog archive

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