Coronavirus In The St. Louis Region: March 23-26, 2020 | St. Louis Public Radio

Coronavirus In The St. Louis Region: March 23-26, 2020

Mar 26, 2020

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

9:15 p.m. Thursday, March 26

Four residents and two workers at a St. Louis nursing home have tested positive for coronavirus.

One resident at Life Care Center St. Louis, near the intersection of Chouteau Avenue and Grand Boulevard, went to St. Mary’s Hospital last week, Executive Director Sean Buckley said in an email Thursday. Three other residents were transferred to the hospital this week after they became sick, he said.

The facility immediately isolated patients who had contact with the four residents.The two staff members who tested positive for COVID-19 are recovering at home.

Life Care Center St. Louis is owned by the same company that operates the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, where 37 people died of COVID-19.

Staff at the St. Louis facility have been following safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Buckley said, restricting visitors and screening workers for symptoms such as fever as soon as they arrive at work.

— Sarah Fentem

6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 26

President Donald Trump has issued major disaster declarations for both Missouri and Illinois.

The declarations open up additional funding for the federal government to reimburse local governments, nonprofits and the state for emergency protective measures for first responders and others dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.

Illinois was also approved for money for crisis counseling. The federal government is still reviewing Missouri’s request for similar funding.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page is asking retired doctors and nurses to help treat the incoming wave of coronavirus patients.

In a video message, Page implored providers who have retired or who work in administrative roles to return to the front lines of health care.

“We need your help here in St. Louis County, and we need your help now,” Page said. “In the coming weeks, our medical institutions will face a heavy burden. We need your help to make sure everyone gets the treatment that they need.”

Doctors, nurses and other medical providers who want to learn more can visit stlcorona.com.

4:25 p.m. Thursday, March 26

Missouri officials are making plans with the National Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build new structures or repurpose existing buildings to increase hospital capacity, Gov. Mike Parson announced Thursday afternoon.

Parson reiterated at his daily press briefing that he has no plans to issue a statewide stay-at-home order as the city of St. Louis and a handful of Missouri counties have done. 

That statement came as health care workers and clergy leaders issued letters urging the governor to make such a decision.

Medical professionals across the state, led by nurse and hospital associations, sent a letter to Parson on Thursday asking the governor to take the step to protect health care workers.

“Many of Missouri’s medical hubs are located in these areas where local officials have taken aggressive approaches to combat the virus,” the letter reads. “When neighboring counties do not implement consistent policies, it not only creates undue burden on these health care providers but puts them at heightened risk of exposure.”

Earlier this week, the Missouri State Medical Association issued its own request for a statewide order.

Clergy from a variety of religious traditions posted a video to Facebook on Thursday calling for a stay-at-home order. 

“The Resurrection is an invitation to connect with the power of God and join with the purpose of redeeming the whole world,” said the Rev. Deborah Krause, the president-elect of Eden Theological Seminary and an ordained Presbyterian minister. “This year, on this Earth, in this state of Missouri, that means following what public health officials and scientists are telling us.”

Your driver’s license is expiring? Relax. The Missouri Department of Revenue will extend for two months commercial and noncommercial driver’s licenses that expire between March 1 and April 30, state leaders announced at a press conference.

Drinking to our (financial) health — Schlafly Beer has introduced a new brew to support the hospitality industry. The St. Louis craft brewery announced Thursday that it is selling four packs of Side Work, an East Coast-style IPA, for $8.99. Proceeds will go to the Gateway Resilience Fund. The beer can be purchased from the brewery’s locations in Maplewood or downtown.

— Sarah Fentem and Rachel Lippmann

1:50 p.m. Thursday, March 26

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has called 60 additional National Guard soldiers and airmen into action to aid in the state’s coronavirus response. 

About 50 of the soldiers and airmen are based in East St. Louis. They will work in medical warehouses in central Illinois.

Another six service members will work at the State Emergency Operations Center to provide communications and response support and assist in making plans for how to respond to potential flooding.

The Missouri National Guard has not been deployed.

In Missouri, the state Department of Economic Development, State Emergency Management Agency and state health department have partnered with local governments to use nearly $3 million in federal Community Development Block Grants to purchase 125 ventilators for hospitals.

The equipment is in high demand as hospitals treat the sickest patients during the COVID-19 outbreak. The new coronavirus infects patients’ lungs, and in some cases can cause people to stop breathing. Ventilators help people breathe as lungs repair themselves from the infection.

The Missouri Department of Transportation will distribute the ventilators based on need. 

ArchCity Defenders is asking the Missouri Supreme Court to order judges throughout the state to release certain people from jail until the COVID-19 outbreak is over.

In a letter to Chief Justice George Draper on Thursday, the legal advocacy group asks the court to release anyone in local jails on misdemeanor convictions, those being held before trial on nonviolent crimes, and those in jail because of a technical probation or parole violation related to a sentence for a nonviolent crime.

The head of the state public defender’s office, the ACLU of Missouri and the Missouri NAACP were among the groups that signed onto ArchCity’s letter.

In a separate letter, a group of 17 public health experts, led by Dr. Fred Rottnek of St. Louis University’s medical school, urges jails to consider releasing medically fragile and older inmates.

“To deal with a pandemic, society at large can increase resources and take emergency measures, like adding hundreds of hospital beds in a new facility,” Rottnek wrote. “Jails and prisons have real and hard limitations of space, staffing, and supplies. It is unlikely most facilities will be able to reasonably put into place sufficient resources to address an outbreak.”

The New Life Evangelistic Center, a homeless outreach ministry, will be giving out 3,500 hygiene kits that include hand sanitizer, washcloths and tissues.

Individuals who need a kit can call 314-421-3020 to find out locations and times for distribution. There is a limit of three kits per family.

— Rachel Lippmann and Sarah Fentem

11:35 a.m. Thursday, March 26

The weekly jobless claims from Missouri are in. Like the national claims, the number is staggering.

The state Department of Labor reported that more than 42,000 people in the state filed for first-time unemployment benefits for the week ending March 21, up from about 3,900 for the week ending March 14. 

The Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis, located downtown, shut down operations at noon Wednesday and furloughed 291 employees, all due to a downturn in business because of the coronavirus outbreak. Such large layoffs generally require 60 days' notice, but the company that runs the hotel said it could not comply with those federal rules because the business circumstances causing the layoffs were not known two months ago. The company said it hoped the furloughs would be temporary but warned they could be permanent.

The MacArthur Justice Center has asked a federal court to sharply reduce the number of people behind bars for parole violations to stop the spread of the virus in jails and prisons.

The St. Louis office of the nonprofit legal advocacy group wants the court to use its power to force the state of Missouri to stop all parole revocation proceedings and let those people in the middle of the hearings remain out of prison. 

The center also wants state courts to withdraw all arrest warrants for people who are accused of violating their parole and to release inmates from parole early, especially those with underlying health conditions that make them more susceptible to severe illness if they are infected with the virus.

And now for a little good news:

The Illinois Public Health Administration is donating 30,000 gloves to statewide health care providers in the fight against this pandemic. The Illinois Emergency Management Association will handle distribution of the gloves to hospitals and other locations.

And Stray Rescue of St. Louis has opened a pet food pantry for pet owners who may be worried about affording dog or cat food. Families needing a little extra help to feed their four-legged friends can email Julia@strayrescue.org to schedule a pickup time.

— Rachel Lippmann

9 a.m. Thursday, March 26

Good morning, all. Let’s start with a little national news: The Senate unanimously passed an unprecedented $2.2 trillion economic rescue package last night to help people and businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. What’s in it for you? Here’s NPR’s guide.

The national unemployment numbers released today are enormous. From NPR:

Weekly jobless claims hit nearly 3.3 million last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That's staggering when you consider that at the height of the Great Recession, initial claims topped out at just shy of 700,000.

Health care workers in the St. Louis region are sounding the alarm that they don't have enough personal protective equipment to wear. From our top story today:

N95 masks usually cost about $1 each. But the cost of the masks isn’t the issue, said Dr. Hilary Babcock, a Washington University infectious disease specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. If there were more available, the health system would buy them.

“The issue is every hospital in this country needs a lot more equipment than we usually do, and a lot of the equipment that they need is usually manufactured in China, in countries that are heavily hit by this outbreak,” she said.

The number of deaths in the U.S. caused by the coronavirus passed the 1,000 mark yesterday. Here’s a look at the local numbers:

  • St. Louis metro: 222 positive cases; three people have died. 
  • Missouri: 356 cases; eight deaths.
  • Illinois: 1,865 cases; 19 deaths.

Stay safe, healthy and physically distant out there.

— Lindsay Toler

6:20 p.m. Wednesday, March 25

Three residents of a St. Charles nursing home have tested positive for COVID-19. Two of the residents at the Frontier Health and Rehabilitation Center have been hospitalized; another is quarantined, according to the St. Charles County Department of Public Health.

The state and county health departments are investigating the cases and will screen and evaluate those who had direct contact with the infected residents. The skilled nursing facility is opening a private wing to house any residents who may have been exposed to the virus.

“Community spread is present in our community,” said St. Charles County Department of Public Health Director Demetrius Cianci-Chapman in a statement. “The elderly and vulnerable in our population are counting on us to do everything we can to provide a safe environment.”

The Missouri Historical Society wants your help with documenting how COVID-19 is affecting the St. Louis region. It’s calling on residents to submit written stories, photos and videos to a new digital archive.

The Historical Society will share the stories of local residents on social media, and some footage could be used for permanent collections.

The Gateway Region YMCA will provide emergency child care assistance to emergency responders and health care providers.

“We’ve switched gears from being a place where people can go for health and wellness, to becoming a place where healthcare providers and ‘essential’ employees can drop off their children, knowing they’re being cared for in a safe environment,” Gateway Region YMCA president and CEO, Tim Helm, said in a statement.

All Gateway Region YMCA’s will otherwise remain closed to guests though April 22.

The St. Louis Circuit Attorney and the St. Louis City Public Defender’s office have selected 56 jail inmates for immediate pretrial release, pending court approval. 

All those identified have low-level offences or significant health issues. Law enforcement officials said the release aims to prevent the spread of the coronavirus inside the city jails and among jail personnel. 

St. Charles County Schools will remain closed through April 24. All athletic and activity events will remain canceled. 

St. Charles County’s extension follows other schools and districts across the region including St. Louis and St. Louis County public schools, which will also remain closed through late April.

— Chad Davis

4 p.m. Wednesday, March 25

Unemployment applications in Missouri are soaring. In a single week, the Missouri Department of Labor and Industry Relations received about one-third of the total number of unemployment claims filed in 2019, Gov. Mike Parson said during a Wednesday press briefing. 

Find more information about filing for unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 outbreak on the state’s website.

The Missouri congressional delegation is urging President Donald Trump to grant Parson’s request to declare a federal emergency disaster in the state. Approving the request will allow Missouri to access federal resources and equipment to fight the coronavirus outbreak, the delegation said in the letter.

“Access to federal resources may better equip Missouri communities to appropriately respond to this public health emergency,” the letter read. “We respectfully request your prompt action to ensure that our communities receive the immediate support needed to respond to this unprecedented disaster.”

A Missouri man selling N95 masks at inflated prices has been issued a cease-and-desist letter from Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt. The Springfield resident stockpiled hundreds of masks before the coronavirus outbreak, according to Schmitt’s office, and tried to sell the masks to an undercover agent for double the retail price. Health care workers around the world are struggling to avoid contracting the new coronavirus, as demand for the specialized respiratory masks has skyrocketed

Webster University’s Biological Sciences Department has donated its supply of N95 masks, gloves and lab coats to Mercy Hospitals in St. Louis. The department expects the personal protective equipment to aid doctors and medical professionals in the field.

"We were hearing about dire needs in the medical community for PPE, and immediately moved to get whatever useful materials we had to those health care workers," said department chair Mary Preuss in a statement.

Health care workers in Columbia, Missouri, tested more than 1,000 people in one week at a drive-thru test site. University of Missouri Health Care launched drive-thru testing last Wednesday and has since ramped up daily testing efforts. 

Patients are eligible for testing at the sites if they have symptoms of COVID-19, including a fever and cough. MU Health Care providers are no longer required to ask about previous exposure or travel history. 

The Illinois House of Representatives has canceled next week’s session. Committee deadlines for House bills have been pushed from April 3 to April 24. Members are expected to return during the weeks of April 5 and April 12.

The Missouri Supreme Court has suspended most in-person court proceedings through April 17. The suspension applies to all appellate and circuit courts in the state. 

— Chad Davis and Shahla Farzan

12:45 p.m. Wednesday, March 25

St. Louis grocery store workers will soon see a pay bump, according to United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655. The union negotiated pay increases with three of the state’s largest grocers: Schnucks, Dierbergs and Straub's. 

Dierbergs Markets and Straub’s will provide a $2 hourly bonus to their employees. Dierbergs is also boosting its overtime rate, adding $3 per hour to employees’ regular rates. Schnucks, another major St. Louis grocery chain, will provide bonuses based on job classification. In a separate announcement, ALDI said it also has temporarily increased wages for its workers. 

Health care workers are asking Missouri Gov. Mike Parson to issue a statewide “stay-at-home” order. Workers with SEIU Healthcare Missouri/Kansas, a union representing health care and child care employees in St. Louis and the Kansas City metro area, are also asking for adequate personal protective equipment, immediate access to paid leave and free COVID-19 testing and treatment. 

St. Louis volunteers are translating COVID-19 announcements into Spanish. Residents Lourdes Bailon and Gabriela Ramirez Arellano co-created the Facebook group STLJuntos to provide verified information and resources, including St. Louis city’s stay-at-home order, in Spanish. The pair is collaborating with Red Latina, a bilingual digital publication.

Do you know a senior who would appreciate a phone call? Southwestern Illinois College staff are calling local seniors to check on them during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

If you know a senior who could benefit from this free service, contact Cheryl Brunsmann, executive director of SWIC’s Programs & Services for Older Persons, at 618-234-4410, ext. 7023, or cheryl.brunsmann@swic.edu

— Shahla Farzan

11:05 a.m. Wednesday, March 25

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is asking President Trump to approve a major disaster declaration for the state of Missouri. The declaration would allow the state to receive federal funding for emergency response efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“There is an urgent need for federal assistance to help Missouri families meet today’s challenges and the many more that we will face,” Parson said in a statement Wednesday.

Parson has also asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help local governments and nonprofits cover the cost of emergency response efforts in their communities — and dispose of biohazard waste. 

Washington University researchers will soon begin testing a century-old technique that could help combat COVID-19. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the university’s application to test plasma transfusion: isolating and transfusing antibodies from the blood of patients who have recovered from COVID-19 to those who are at high risk or are already ill from the virus.

Looking for a furry friend? The Humane Society of Missouri is making it easier for St. Louis residents to adopt animals during the stay-at-home period. The organization has shifted to a new virtual adoption process and is offering curbside pickup by appointment at the Maryland Heights and Macklind locations. Adoption fees for many pets, including puppies and kittens, have been reduced.

— Shahla Farzan

8:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 25

Good morning, folks. Last night was quieter — for local news, anyway. The U.S. Senate reached a historic deal overnight on a $2 trillion coronavirus economic rescue package. And everyone is buzzing about Prince Charles testing positive for the coronavirus, but that’s outside our coverage zone.

The latest coronavirus counts

  • St. Louis metro: 163 positive cases; three people have died.
  • Missouri: 255 cases; five deaths.
  • Illinois: 1,535 cases; 16 deaths.

Today’s feature story is an uplifting report from Rolla, where a ragtag team of students is spending spring break making protective masks for medical workers. I highly recommend giving it a read/listen: Missouri S&T Is Making Protective Masks for Rolla Hospital Workers.

If you are a health care worker affected by the shortage of protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic, we’d like to hear from you. Are you or your colleagues dealing with a shortage of safety gear? Are you worried about running out? Email our health reporter Sarah Fentem and inform our reporting: sfentem@stlpublicradio.org

— Lindsay Toler

7:55 p.m. Tuesday, March 24

A minor at the Hogan Street Regional Youth Center has tested positive for COVID-19, state officials said Tuesday. The minor, who was evaluated at a local hospital, has returned to the center and is isolated under quarantine, officials with the state Department of Social Services said.

Officials said they are focused on the minor’s recovery and the safety of others at the center. The facility is being deep-cleaned, and minors there will have no interaction with those in other groups.

The Division of Youth Services has suspended all visits to the center but is trying to ensure that minors there have more opportunities to talk more frequently with their families.

St. Charles County has announced that government buildings and facilities are closed to the public until further notice. That includes the county administration building at 201 N. Second St. in St. Charles. Residents can speak to county workers by phone and access services online. 

The county will announce scheduled dates for public meetings held in the county facilities soon.

— Andrea Henderson

4:40 p.m. Tuesday, March 24

Hours after St. Louis Mayor Lyda Kewson wrote on Twitter that officials need to test more people for the new coronavirus to understand the ongoing health crisis, Missouri officials assured the public that the state is stepping up testing.

Missouri is completing about 2,000 tests per day, Dr. Randall Williams, director of the state Department of Health and Senior Services, said Tuesday. At the daily press briefing held by Gov. Mike Parson, Williams said he expects the number of tests completed per day to rise as more mobile sites become available.

“Our strategy of doing more testing among clinics in the mobile sites is working, and that’s reflected in the number of cases that are coming back positive,” Williams said.

Williams did not say whether there are enough tests in the state, nor did he provide an update on how many tests the state has completed so far.

Also on Tuesday, Parson said he is not considering a request from the ACLU of Missouri that he release nonviolent, vulnerable inmates who are serving prison sentences in state correctional centers. Parson said the state’s prisons are prepared for the virus.

“People are incarcerated for a reason,” he said.

Missouri officials have placed orders for a total of $17.3 million worth of personal protective equipment for medical personnel, emergency medical technicians and law enforcement. That includes more than 4.2 million N95 respirators that the state will spend $10 million to acquire, said Sandy Karsten, director of the state Department of Public Safety. Those shipments are expected in the coming weeks. 

St. Louis will release more detainees from jail in order to keep the inmate population low during the coronavirus outbreak, Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards said Tuesday. Edwards said “20-plus people” could leave the jail in the coming days.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced last week that she would only put people in jail who posed a threat to public safety in light of the health care crisis. Garner has said her office would temporarily set aside lower-level offenses, such as nonviolent parole violations.

Edwards said Gardner’s actions resulted in 43 people being released from jail on March 18.

The hospitality industry is sharing dire jobs numbers as bookings hit the ground floor. Representatives of the American Hotel and Lodging Association said more than 17,000 hotel employees will be out of work and over 50,000 hospitality-related jobs will be lost in Missouri because of the coronavirus pandemic. Hotel bookings are down 80% in the St. Louis area, the St. Louis Area Hotel Association chapter reported.

The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 continues to rise in Missouri and Illinois. Missouri’s health department has logged 227 positive cases, up from 183 this morning. The number of deaths has risen to at least six.

St. Charles County confirmed that an additional three people have tested positive for the disease, bringing that county’s total to eight. The Circle K gas station on Elm Street in St. Charles is voluntarily closed because an employee is among those who tested positive.

In Illinois, the number of people who have tested positive rose by 240 to 1,525.

— Jaclyn Driscoll,  Julie O’Donoghue and Ryan Delaney

12:45 p.m. Tuesday, March 24

The deadline to become a candidate in Missouri's August primary election is still March 31. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican, said the law doesn’t allow him to push that date — even to cope with the coronavirus outbreak. 

“Nowhere am I given any authority to do that,” Ashcroft said. “If I move it, I get sued because I shouldn’t have done that.”

People who want to run for office have to file as a candidate in person. Ashcroft said there are two exceptions: 

  1. People in the military.
  2. People with a physical disability detailed in a doctor’s note. 

Both groups are able to file their candidate paperwork via certified mail.

Those filing in person will do so a little differently this time with social distancing in mind. Candidates will come through a separate entrance and have space to fill out paperwork while maintaining a proper distance from each other, Ashcroft said. 

Missouri State parks are closing campgrounds and lodging starting Friday, through April 30. The state parks will remain open for day use. Also beginning Friday, the Missouri Department of Conservation is waiving all fishing permit and trout tag requirements through April 15.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 5:30 p.m. with the correct candidate filing deadline for the August primary.

— Julie O’Donoghue and Brian Heffernan

11:10 a.m. Tuesday, March 24

Fewer public buses are rolling down streets in Madison County. The county’s public transit authority announced Tuesday it is discontinuing its express buses into downtown St. Louis. Most other routes are running fare-free and on a Saturday schedule, which has less frequent pickups. 

Metro Transit cut its service back late last week. Transit ridership across the nation has dramatically decreased while businesses close and millions of people are ordered to stay in their homes.

Graduate school hopefuls will be able to take the GRE online by using a remote test proctoring service. High school students wanting to take the ACT and SAT college entrance exams will have to wait a little longer. The in-person exams in April and May have been postponed until summer.

Missouri won’t kick people off food stamps this spring. People whose Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits were supposed to be recertified in March, April or May will have them extended for six months, the state’s Department of Social Services said.

During that same three-month period, families with children eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch will receive extra EBT-card funds. About 50% of Missouri public school children are eligible for this benefit. 

— Ryan Delaney

9:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 24

Good morning. Our health reporter Sarah Fentem has a must-read story up about the shortage of hospital beds in Missouri. Researchers say the St. Louis metropolitan area has about 9,300 hospital beds, not including public hospitals. That likely won't be enough to treat the more than 100,000 patients who could need emergency care throughout the outbreak.

The latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro: 134 positive cases; three people have died, including two yesterday, a 31-year-old woman from St. Louis and a St. Charles County man in his 70s. 
  • Missouri: 183 cases; four deaths.
  • Illinois: 1,285 cases; 12 deaths.

How are people in your community working together — while staying physically distant — to help those in need? Is your neighborhood organizing a food pantry? Are you sharing art and school supplies? Are you making meals for students who normally rely on schools for breakfast and lunch? Are you sewing masks for first responders? Please email me and share how you and your neighbors are working together: ltoler@stlpublicradio.org.

— Lindsay Toler

9:40 p.m. Monday, March 23

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has expanded the criteria for who can get tested for COVID-19. Hospitalized patients, residents of long-term care facilities and people with chronic illnesses can be tested even if they have not traveled to a country where the disease is spreading.

The department on Monday also updated its recommendations for when a person can stop isolating at home if they had COVID-19. That includes waiting 72 hours after they’ve recovered from their symptoms to discontinue home isolation.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page on Monday assured members of the St. Louis chapter of the NAACP that hospitals in different parts of the county have set up testing sites. Members of the chapter expressed concern that testing is not available in north St. Louis County, where there are more communities of color. Testing sites have been placed throughout the county, Page told them. 

St. Charles County health officials reported that a man in his 70s who had been hospitalized for COVID-19 was the first person in the county to die of the disease.

Officials in Jefferson County reported its first cases of COVID-19: A man and a woman both in their 60s and a woman in her 70s. Health officials confirmed that one had come into contact with a person who has COVID-19 but said the other two cases are still under investigation. 

— Eli Chen

7 p.m. Monday, March 23

Missouri firefighters and police officers do not have enough masks, shields and other supplies to protect themselves against the new coronavirus, state public safety director Sandy Karsten said.

The state was expecting a shipment containing hundreds of thousands of pieces of personal protective equipment that officials planned to distribute to local fire service and law enforcement agencies.

“The first of those supplies arrived today,” Karsten said. “It was just 200 sets of protective goggles.”

Missouri is using its disaster funds and resources from the Strategic National Stockpile and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to acquire more protective equipment, she said. 

Jefferson and St. Charles county officials are telling residents to stay home, beginning just after midnight tonight. The moves follow similar stay-at-home orders by St. Louis city and county leadership that took effect today. 

Jefferson County residents will be allowed to leave home to care for family members, go to the grocery store or pharmacy, exercise outside or work at public- or private-sector jobs that provide “essential” services. Those include jobs at health care facilities, grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, gas stations, hardware stores and others, according to the order

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann said residents should only leave their homes for “activities they deem necessary to their physical, mental or spiritual well-being, or for employment.”

The new restrictions in St. Charles stop short of the limits in the St. Louis city and county orders that require all nonessential businesses to close. St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann said the decision should be up to businesses. “Businesses and residents — not county government — should determine what is essential. There is no way government can be aware of the unique needs of every individual,” he said.

Ehlmann said stronger restrictions could be necessary as COVID-19 continues to spread. He said the county confirmed three cases today not related to travel.

Some relief may be coming for Missouri small businesses. Gov. Mike Parson announced this afternoon that the Small Business Association has approved the state’s request for financial assistance. Any small business or private nonprofit hurt financially by the outbreak can now apply for low-interest disaster loans. 

Parson also signed an executive order suspending a rule that prohibits restaurants from selling unprepared food to the public. Parson said the order will help struggling restaurants and address the increasing demand for food across the state. 

Doctors and other licensed health care providers in other states can now give telehealth care to patients in Missouri. The state’s Department of Commerce and Insurance has waived a statute that allows only in-state providers to treat patients in Missouri. 

Franklin County announced its first COVID-19 case. County health department officials confirmed today that a woman in her 50s tested positive for coronavirus. They said the woman has been at home in isolation since the onset of her symptoms. 

Officials are still investigating how the woman was exposed to the virus and whom she may have come in contact with before the confirmed diagnosis. Officials said they expect the number of confirmed cases to increase as more people are tested.

School closures will extend into late April. St. Louis city and county city public schools announced today their buildings will remain closed through April 22. In a statement, school officials said the extension keeps the districts in line with new stay-at-home orders.

— Corinne Ruff, Eli Chen and Brian Heffernan

3 p.m. Monday, March 23

St. Louis’ first death due to COVID-19 is a woman in her 30s. City officials said she tested positive Sunday for the coronavirus and was recently hospitalized. Her infection was not related to any travel, officials said.

Dr. Fred Echols, the city’s public health director, said there are now 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in St. Louis. “One myth is that young people can’t get it. This case is evidence that young people can get it — and that it can cause death,” he said. 

Echols said the person’s age is cause for concern for health officials. He said young people also are vulnerable to the virus, and he urged people to follow social distancing guidelines.

“Anyone that’s exposed can become infected,” he said. “We’re asking you to protect yourself, not only for yourself, but for your families, your friends and for the community at large.”

A stay-at-home order goes into effect in the city at 6 p.m. today.

Physicians and surgeons are urging Gov. Mike Parson to issue a statewide executive order for Missourians to shelter in place.

The Missouri State Medical Association issued the statement today calling for stricter social distancing requirements. Members of the association say a “shelter-in-place” order is the “only way to curb the exponential spread of COVID-19 in Missouri.”

“If things progress as is, COVID-19 patients will deplete the state’s available hospital beds, ventilators, and precious personal protection equipment,” according to the statement.

The Webster-Kirkwood Times, South County Times and West End Word will stop printing. The three community newspapers announced today they will cease print publication after the release of their latest issues, this week and next, according to a letter Webster-Kirkwood Times President Dwight Bitikofer posted on the newspaper’s site

The Webster-Kirkwood Times plans to continue an online presence at least through April. 

— Corinne Ruff

12:15 p.m. Monday, March 23

The Missouri Capitol and state government office buildings will close to the public starting Tuesday. They will remain closed until at least April 6. The move doesn’t apply to prisons, veterans homes and other state-run facilities.

Price gougers, beware. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt put a new form online Monday making it easier for consumers to report price gouging during the COVID-19 outbreak. Schmitt also announced a partnership with Amazon to use its market analytics to identify bad actors.

Franklin County is ordering the closure of nonessential businesses including golf courses, barber shops, gyms and movie theaters. The closures start Tuesday and will last until at least April 17. 

Mercy hospitals will no longer allow visitors under most circumstances starting today. Exceptions include allowing one visitor for urgent procedures and pregnancy checkups. Two visitors are allowed for pediatric and neonatal intensive care unit patients. The announcement follows similar decisions made by BJC Healthcare and SSM Health this weekend. 

Pets are finding foster homes. After issuing an emergency plea last week, Gateway Pet Guardians in East St. Louis announced Monday that all its pets now have foster homes. 

“It is incredible and humbling to see how quickly the community responded to our plea for help. I can’t think of a better way to be quarantined than to snuggle up with a shelter pet,” Executive Director Jamie Case said in a statement.

The shelter will start taking more dogs from St. Clair County Animal Services on Tuesday, limiting intake to pets that are sick or injured, as well as pregnant and nursing moms.

— Corinne Ruff and Brian Heffernan

8:35 a.m. Monday, March 23

Happy Monday, live blog readers! The big news from the weekend was the stay-at-home order asking St. Louis city and county residents to remain at home except for essential activities. The order is already in effect in the county, and it starts for the city this evening.

Have questions about what the stay-at-home order means for you? We’ve updated our FAQ with new answers. (Examples: No, the order doesn’t apply to St. Charles County. Yes, you can still walk your dog.) Send me your questions directly by asking Curious Louis.

The latest counts, according to the Missouri and Illinois health department sites:

  • St. Louis metro: 79 confirmed cases, one death.
  • Missouri: 106 cases, three deaths.
  • Illinois: 1,049 cases, nine deaths.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is expected to update those numbers this afternoon.

We started a Facebook group for anyone who is trying to keep children entertained and educated while schools are closed. If you’re a parent, grandparent, guardian or educator, I invite you to join us. It’s called Public Radio Parents, but you don’t have to be an NPR listener to be part of the group. 

Today, I’m curious how things are going at your favorite restaurants. Local dining establishments are affected by new rules about social distancing but are exempt from the stay-at-home order. How have the restaurants around you adapted to pickup or delivery only? Send me an email and let me know: ltoler@stlpublicradio.org.

Editor's note: This post was updated at 10:45 a.m. to correct the number of positive cases and deaths from the coronavirus in the St. Louis metro area and Illinois. 

— Lindsay Toler

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