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Coronavirus In The St. Louis Region: April 13-19, 2020

CareSTL Health's COVID-19 testing site in north St. Louis will reopen on April 27.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force said hospitals discharged 60 COVID-19 patients yesterday.

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

3:30 p.m. Sunday, April 19

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Sunday the state is set to receive millions of masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment Monday in an airlift from China.

The gear will be sent to a state warehouse, inspected for safety and then distributed to hospitals, first responders and other essential workers who need it. Pritzker said that it is odd that a state would be arranging its own airlift rather than requesting the equipment from the federal government, but that “if an airlift is what it takes to bring the PPE to protect essential workers, then it’s an airlift that we’ll use without hesitation.”

Pritzker also said Sunday that he is still considering an executive order that would require people to wear masks in certain public settings. The governor did not say when he might announce such an order, or how extensive the requirement would be but reiterated that, in his opinion, everyone should be wearing a mask when outdoors or in retail stores.

St. Louis Lambert International Airport will receive $60 million in federal money to help compensate for losses due to the pandemic. Air travel is down 97% since the pandemic became widespread in the U.S. The money is going to airports from the federal coronavirus relief act and does not require any matching money from local agencies or governments. 

In Illinois, grantees include MidAmerica Airport in Belleville, which is receiving $3.6 million and Quincy Regional Airport, with a grant of $1 million.

Other Missouri airports that will receive grants include the Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield ($157,000), Creve Coeur Airport in Maryland Heights ($69,000), Waynesville-St. Robert Regional Airport at Fort Leonard Wood ($69,000) and Rolla National Airport ($30,000).

Neiman Marcus is expected to file for bankruptcy protection early next week, according to a report by Reuters. The high-end clothing store, which has a location at Plaza Frontenac, would be the first major retail company to be forced into bankruptcy by COVID-19.

— Rachel Lippmann and Jonathan Ahl

9:40 a.m. Sunday, April 19

Good morning and happy Sunday. There’s a slight chance of rain in the forecast, which is good news for everyone who recently planted a garden, but the day won’t be a total washout.

Jefferson County has confirmed a major outbreak at a Festus nursing home.Forty residents at the Festus Manor Care Center have tested positive for the coronavirus. And Illinois yesterday reported its highest one-day COVID-19 death toll: 125 people.

Good news for concert-goers: Ticketmaster has announced that it will fully refund ticket purchases for all shows canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak. A letter on the ticket vendor’s website cautions it may take time to issue all of the refunds because of uncertainty over events being rescheduled, as well as the sheer volume of refunds.

Many of the stars who had planned to put on those concerts joined together virtually last night for "One World: Together At Home." Here’s more on the show from NPR.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen goes back into session tomorrow for the first time since the outbreak began. Like so many of us working remotely, the board will be switching to virtual meetings.

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro: 4,284 positive cases; 169 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 5,517 cases; 191 deaths.
  • Illinois: 29,160 cases; 1,259 deaths.

— Rachel Lippmann

4 p.m. Saturday, April 18

Illinois has recorded its highest one-day death toll from COVID-19. Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the state Department of Public Health, reported today that 125 people died of the disease in the last 24-hour reporting period. That makes the Illinois totals 29,160 people who have tested positive and 1,259 deaths. She said that the rate of growth is slowing but that the state has not seen its peak.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he will not consider relaxing statewide restrictions until after the data show the cases have peaked. He also said he likes the element of the Trump administration plan that calls for stay-at-home orders to remain in place for 14 days after the peak and, even then, only if there is evidence of decline of cases.

Forty residents and staff at the Festus Manor Care Center in Jefferson County have tested positive for the coronavirus.

One resident of the nursing home, a woman in her 80s, has died of the illness. A spokesperson for the home said it had already been in contact with the patients’ family members. The county’s health department has begun testing all residents and staff of the home, and has provided staff and residents with personal protective equipment such as masks and face shields.

Affinia Healthcare will launch three more drive-thru testing stations for the coronavirus next week. The testing stations will be located in under-resourced areas of St. Louis and St. Louis County. The first will open Tuesday at 8960 Jennings Station Road, in collaboration with the Urban League. The agency will add a second site at its location at 4414 N. Florissant Ave. on Wednesday, and a third at its location at 3930 S. Broadway on Thursday.

Testing is by appointment only, and the hours vary by site. Individuals can call 314-833-2777.

The number of people seriously ill with COVID-19 in the St. Louis area continues a slight downward trend. The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force said Saturday that the number of people hospitalized with the virus was down one person from yesterday, and there are now three fewer people in the intensive care units of the region’s major hospitals. Eight people with the virus were also able to come off ventilators between Friday and Saturday.

— Rachel Lippmann and Jonathan Ahl

12:30 p.m. Saturday, April 18

The coronavirus outbreak has not slowed housing sales in the St. Louis area. Pending sales of single-family homes are up nearly 5% compared to March 2019, and the median price is up more than 11% during that same period, according to the St. Louis Realtors’ latest housing report. Realtors are adjusting to coronavirus concerns by focusing more on virtual listings and showing properties on platforms like Zoom and FaceTime.

The Realtor group says reports in months ahead may not look quite as rosy, citing tighter loan requirements and a struggling economy. The report also warns that “we are likely to see impacts to housing activity now and into the coming months.” New listings in March for homes decreased nearly 8% and fell more than 11% for condos and townhomes, compared to March 2019. 

Washington University and Missouri University of Science and Technology have both altered their summer schedules because of the pandemic. In a letter to students this week, Wash U announced that it is suspending all in-person programming until at least Aug. 1, including all camps, summer school classes, research and university-arranged study abroad. Students who were approved to stay on campus in March because they cannot go home will be allowed to remain over the summer.

Missouri S&T has canceled all camps in May and June, and said it will continue to evaluate whether to host camps in July or August.

SSM Health and St. Louis University’s nursing schools are making it easier for retired nurses to return to the hospital more quickly. The organizations have shortened their joint Return to Practice program from four weeks to two so nurses can make a more immediate impact in St. Louis-area hospitals. 

Returning nurses are paired with actively practicing nurses after the program. Nurses who go through the program offered in St. Louis and Oklahoma City will have the option to continue working at the SSM hospitals in those metro areas when the pandemic ends.

Missouri Humanities is taking applications for grants from nonprofit cultural organizations in the state hurt by the coronavirus pandemic. The money is part of the federal relief act Congress passed late last month.

The applications are due by the end of April, and the money could be distributed during May. Organizations can use the funds for general operating costs, and they do not have to have matching money.

— Jonathan Ahl and Rachel Lippmann

10 a.m. Saturday, April 18

Good morning, and welcome to the weekend. It appears we will have some delightful weather this weekend, which means it’s ideal to get outside for fresh air and exercise. Just be sure to keep your distance from other people — at least six feet, please! And wash your hands when you get home.

Gov. Mike Parson announced on Friday a four-pronged plan for restarting Missouri’s economy on May 4. Parson’s plan calls for the state to increase testing capacity; boost personal protective equipment reserves; develop a model to predict potential outbreaks; and if necessary, expand health care facilities. The announcement came a day after Parson extended his statewide stay-at-home order through May 3.

Parson acknowledges that there will not be a monolithic approach to reopening the state. He said the St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas, which have the most cases and highest population densities, will likely have to remain under local stay-at-home orders longer than rural areas.

African Americans in St. Louis County are about four times as likely to become sick with COVID-19 as white residents, according to the county Department of Public Health.

The most recent data shows that among African American residents, 316 per 100,000 people become sick from COVID-19. For white residents, that rate is 80 per 100,000 people. As of Friday, there were 70 deaths in the county.

In St. Louis, African Americans comprise more than 65% of residents who test positive for the coronavirus. The city has recorded 30 deaths.

Several St. Louis-area arts groups and musicians are finding ways to provide entertainment during this pandemic. Now, St. Louis Cinemas has joined the fun. The movie theater company that runs the Moolah, Chase Park Plaza and MX Cinemas is offering free streaming of classics from the Library of Congress’ rare film library, as well as some movies from Lionsgate Films. 

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro: 4,147 positive cases; 157 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 5,283 cases; 180 deaths.
  • Illinois: 27,575 cases; 1,134 deaths.

— Chad Davis and Shula Neuman

5:50 p.m. Friday, April 17

The Missouri Department of Mental Health confirmed Friday that 28 residents of its mental health facilities have tested positive for the coronavirus and three have died of COVID-19. Department officials also said that 39 employees have contracted the coronavirus.

Two patients at the Developmental Disabilities Treatment Center in south St. Louis County and one patient at the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center have died. 

The department operates dozens of inpatient and outpatient facilities for patients with developmental disabilities and mental and behavioral health problems.

More than half of the patients who have tested positive live at the St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center on Arsenal Street in the Southwest Garden neighborhood. 

The department restricted visitors in all facilities and offices on March 13 and has been screening staff for symptoms and using protective equipment since “at least March 23,” said Deborah Walker, DMH director of public and legislative affairs.

Two advocacy groups have asked a state court to rule that state and local election officials make absentee ballots available to Missouri voters who are isolating themselves because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ACLU of Missouri and the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition filed the lawsuit Friday in Cole County Circuit Court. The suit, which seeks class action status, names Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and the Kansas City, Jackson County and St. Louis election boards as defendants.

The suit was filed on behalf of the NAACP of Missouri and the League of Women Voters. It seeks a court ruling declaring voters can cast an absentee ballot by invoking Missouri’s confinement-due-to-illness excuse because of the pandemic.

Missouri has elections scheduled for June and August, followed by the presidential election in November.

The first alternate care site for COVID-19 patients in Missouri is treating three people, Missouri Public Safety Director Sandra Karsten said Friday.

The facility, at an old Quality Inn in Florissant, is staffed by the Missouri National Guard. Karsten said Guard members will also help as needed with operations at St. Louis County’s “surge morgue,” which has been constructed in Earth City.

— Sarah Fentem, Dan Margolies and Rachel Lippmann

4:00 p.m. Friday, April 17

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force said hospitals discharged 60 COVID-19 patients yesterday. As of Friday, there are 684 hospitalizations related to COVID-19 in the bi-state St. Louis area, down from 687 yesterday. The number of patients in intensive care units fell to 173 from 179. Currently, 144 ventilators are in use, down from 155.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson says the state will be loosening the criteria for who can receive COVID-19 testing next week.

Parson and his health director, Dr. Randall Williams, did not provide additional details about who will be eligible for testing. Expanded testing is a key part of the governor’s plan to start reopening the state’s economy on May 4. He said Thursday he wants to double the state’s testing capacity by next week — currently, the state can do about 7,000 tests a day. As of Thursday, all labs across the state had tested a total of 51,545 people.

More than 46,000 Missouri small businesses and nonprofits received a total of $7.5 billion in loans from the federal stimulus program that helps them pay employees during the pandemic.

Those numbers put Missouri 10th nationwide in the number of businesses who received loans, and 15th in the total loan amount. The program officially ran out of money Thursday.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker closed K-12 schools through the end of the academic year. Schools will continue to use remote-learning plans. State-mandated standardized tests have been canceled. 

Illinois received $569 million to support remote K-12 education from the federal CARES Act. Gov. Pritzker said school districts will get an amount proportional to the percentage of low-income students they serve. The rest will be directed to the districts that most need remote learning resources and meal services.

Gov. Pritzker and the Illinois State Board of Education is recommending grades given during the pandemic reflect “the unprecedented circumstances in which students are attempting to continue their studies.”

“Grades should deliver feedback and not be used as a tool for compliance,” he said. “COVID-19 is forcing far too many of our students to deal firsthand with concepts that even adults find nerve-wracking. Let’s recognize that.”

— Corinne Ruff, Rachel Lippman and Eli Chen

11:20 a.m. Friday, April 17

Self-employed gig workers in Missouri can apply for unemployment benefits. The Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations is encouraging gig workers and independent contractors affected by the COVID-19 slowdown to apply for benefit payments under its Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. 

People who qualify will be eligible for weekly payments of $133 to $320, plus a $600 payment from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. The programs are part of the CARES Act. Missouri labor officials expect to begin processing claims as early as next week. 

Two patients of state psychiatric institutions in the St. Louis area have died of complications of COVID-19, the Riverfront Times reports. They died at the Bellefountaine Habilitation Center and the St. Louis Developmental Disabilities Treatment Center. In four mental health institutions in the St. Louis area, 26 patients and 31 staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus. 

Missouri Department of Mental Health Director Mark Stringer told employees last month that they should report to work, even if they have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, according to the Columbia Missourian. 

University City plans to cut its budget by 15% and lay off and furlough 13 employees, due to the financial strain from the coronavirus pandemic. City Manager Gergory Rose expects a 25% reduction in the city’s revenues for the next fiscal year. 

You can soon track online how St. Louis County is spending the $175 million it’s receiving from the federal government for coronavirus relief. St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced this morning that the county will launch a web portal next week that will allow anyone to see how the CARES Act funds will be spent. The county has until Dec. 31 to spend the money. Any amount left over has to be returned to the federal government. 

The Environmental Protection Agency has postponed work to test and clean up lead contamination residential yards in southeast Missouri, said EPA spokesperson Ben Washburn. In recent years, federal officials have been cleaning up Superfund sites in Jefferson, St. Francois and Madison counties that have polluted by historic lead and heavy metals mining. EPA has halted work to excavate contaminated dirt and meet residents in person, but contractors can still replace plants and perform other maintenance at properties. 

There are no plans to slow down or halt work to clean up the West Lake Landfill Superfund site, Washburn said. The West Lake Landfill in north St. Louis County sits on thousands of tons of World War II-era radioactive waste near an underground smoldering fire at the Bridgeton Landfill. EPA officials plan to remove 70% of the radioactivity at the site.

— Eli Chen

9 a.m. Friday, April 17

Good morning! And thank you to everyone who joined us for Public Radio Music Day last night. (If you missed our livestream concert on Facebook Live last night, you can still watch an archived version of it.)

Even with the pandemic raging, more than a thousand babies are being born in the St. Louis region every month. Find out more about how pregnant women are protecting themselves from the coronavirus in today’s feature story: Having A Baby During Coronavirus Comes With Extra Challenges. Plus, listen to our talk show conversation about doulas

A black man in his 50s died of complications from the coronavirus in St. Louis yesterday, bringing the city’s death toll to 28 people. Find out more about how the outbreak is disproportionately affecting the black community: Tracking COVID-19 Cases By ZIP Code Highlights Inequity In St. Louis Region.

For further listening, St. Louis Public Radio’s We Live Here podcast has switched the focus of its sixth season to report on the COVID-19 outbreak through a lens of racial and economic equity. Recent episodes have focused on how St. Louis’ Asian American residents and health care providers facing xenophobia, educational disparities and how the pandemic is affecting life for the region’s unhoused population

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro: 3,997 positive cases; 143 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 5,111 cases; 166 deaths.
  • Illinois: 25,733 cases; 1,072 deaths.

— Lindsay Toler

9 p.m. Thursday, April 16

The Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations has launched an online “virtual assistant” to answer questions about unemployment benefits.

The chatbot, which can be accessed at labor.mo.gov, is meant to reduce the volume of calls and emails the department is receiving. Nearly 102,000 people in the state filed first-time claims for unemployment last week, up from 91,000 the week before.

Both U.S. Rep. Billy Long, from southwest Missouri, and fellow Republican Sen. Josh Hawley have been named to President Trump’s task force on reopening the economy.

“With my business background, l understand all too well the devastating economic impact this virus is having on businesses and American workers,” Long said in a statement. “Before the pandemic, with President Trump’s leadership, our nation saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average soar to record highs and we witnessed record low unemployment numbers. We are in this together, and I look forward to working with President Trump to get Americans back to work safely."

Hawley said in a tweetthat reopening the economy was "becoming more and more urgent as unemployment mounts and food banks see record claims." Earlier this month, he introduced what he called a "phase 4" of federal coronavirus relief, which would encourage companies to rehire workers and keep them on the payrolls during the pandemic.

The families of two St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officers who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 are getting financial help from the BackStoppers.

The organization, which provides financial assistance to the families of first responders killed or severely injured in the line of duty, is providing $10,000 to each family to help cover medical bills. The officers have been in the intensive care unit for two weeks.

“This pandemic has placed a heavy burden on us all – especially our first responders who are serving on the front lines every day,” said Chief Ron Battelle, executive director of the BackStoppers. “This assistance will help them as they continue to recover from this life-threatening virus.”

And, finally, let’s end this blog on a lighter note. The coronavirus pandemic has canceled so many things that so many of us were looking forward to, including concerts. So in honor of the first Public Radio Music Day, here’s a socially distantconcert of great local bands brought to you by St. Louis Public Radio. Enjoy!

— Rachel Lippmann

4:50 p.m Thursday, April 16

Missouri’s stay-at-home order will be in place until May 3, but Gov. Mike Parson said he aims to start reopening the economy the very next day.

“I truly believe we are at the curve and on the downward slope of the virus now,” Parson said Thursday during his daily appearance on Facebook Live. “I say that cautiously, but we look at data every day. The decision to move the date from March 24 is simply to start preparing to open up the state of Missouri.”

A key part of Parson’s plan is expanded coronavirus testing. He said he hopes to double the state’s testing capacity by next week, and wants to test 10,000 people per day “in the near future.” As of Wednesday, all labs in the state, including private ones, had tested a total of 50,432 people.

Seven governors including Illinois Gov. J.B. Prizker have announced a formal collaboration that would determine when to reopen the region’s economy.

The pact includes the governors of Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana and Kentucky. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is not part of the collaboration. 

The collaboration will make plans that prioritize workers’ health based on “facts, science and recommendations from experts,” the governors wrote in a press release. 

Illinois announced the highest daily death count from the coronavirus Thursday. In 24 hours, 125 people in the state died from COVID-19, Pritzker said during a daily briefing.

The state is also now able to test “thousands” more people per day for the coronavirus at its state-run labs.

Illinois has fixed problems with testing machines at its state labs and received swabs and other testing supplies from universities and private suppliers, Pritzker said. 

The state has arranged for federally qualified community health centers in Chicago, southern and central Illinois to collect swabs from patients to be tested at the state labs, he said. 

Pritzker also said the state had signed new contracts with medical suppliers for the protective equipment health care workers need.

The state has sent 5 million surgical masks, 1.5 million N95 masks, 4 million gloves and 20,000 gowns to health care workers and emergency responders in all of the state’s 102 counties, Pritzker said. The state has outstanding orders for 27 million N95 masks and 27 million surgical masks, he said.

An inmate at the jail in Lincoln County, Missouri, has tested positive for COVID-19.

Officials at the jail, located about 50 miles northwest of St. Louis, said the inmate is isolated and being treated by medical personnel. Those who may have had close contact with the patient, including other inmates, are being screened.

The county’s health department is working with the jail to determine “additional measures that may be taken to protect the health of the inmate population.”

Circus Flora has canceled its 2020 season, and will replace it with a virtual show June 4.

“There is nothing we look forward to more than gathering again beneath the Big Top when we are all safe and well,” said Karen Shoulders, managing director of Circus Flora. “But this is the decision that had to be made – based on science, data, and what we’ve learned from other nations – to keep our audiences, performers, vendors, staff, and volunteers healthy during these unpredictable days.”

Circus Flora’s show, “The Trial of the Century,” had been scheduled for June 4-28 at the big top in Grand Center.

— Rachel Lippmann and Sarah Fentem

2:30 p.m Thursday, April 16

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page have extended their stay-at-home orders indefinitely. The orders shutter nonessential businesses and encourage people in the city and county to stay home except for things like exercising and essential errands. 

Krewson has added language to her order, recommending that essential businesses provide their employees with protective equipment like masks and gloves, and that people wear masks when out in the community.

Page and Krewson say they will next re-evaluate how long the orders should last in mid-May.

Also today, Fred Echols, director of the city’s Department of Health, announced that at 9 a.m. Friday, Betty Jean Kerr People’s Health Center will open a testing site at 11642 West Florissant Ave. Testing is free, but by appointment only.

The $349 billion federal Paycheck Protection Program has run out of money. That means St. Louis-area small businesses can no longer apply for assistance. The program, part of a $2 trillion economic relief bill passed last month, was created to help small business weather financial losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Full story: Small Business Emergency Relief Program Hits $349 Billion Cap In Less Than 2 Weeks

Illinois lost more than 34,000 jobs in March, according to the latest report from the state’s Department of Employment Security. Illinois’ unemployment rate jumped 1.2 percentage points to 4.6% between February and March. The largest average declines were found in the hospitality, businesses services and financial activities sectors. 

That report includes the week of March 12 and reflects part of the economic downturn brought by the coronavirus outbreak. Thousands more jobs were lost after that and will be reflected in next month’s data.

Metro Transit will be temporarily suspending service on six bus routes starting Monday and will be changing schedules and services for many others. The changes are due to low ridership and “fewer available workforce resources,” the agency announced on its website. 

Service will be temporarily suspended on the #2 Red line, #13 Union, #56 Kirkwood-Webster, #58 Chesterfield Valley and the #75 Christian Hospital bus lines. Other bus lines will end services earlier in the evening. There are no changes to Illinois or MetroLink schedules or routes. See a full list of changes here.

The IRS says people should be extra vigilant for coronavirus-related financial scams now that federal stimulus money is on the way, Be wary of any person who claims they are from the government and needs personal information to deliver federal stimulus checks. The federal agency will either deposit the money directly into a bank account or mail a paper check, depending on how someone has received money from tax returns in the past. 

“The IRS will not call and ask you to verify your payment details. Do not give out your bank account or any other account information — even if someone claims it's necessary to get your check. It's a scam,” the IRS warns. The agency has more advice for how to look out for and report scams on it’s website.

An anonymous donor has pledged $250,000 in matching donations to the St. Louis Community Foundation. The foundation has given more than $2 million to recipients affected by the coronavirus through two regional relief funds. Individual contributions to both funds will be matched dollar-for-dollar until May 3. 

One of those funds, the Gateway Resilience Fund, gives $500 grants to restaurants, businesses and artists who have lost money because of the pandemic. The other, the COVID-19 Regional Response Fund, assists nonprofits that work with populations most vulnerable to the coronavirus, including the elderly, people who have been quarantined or children who’ve lost access to free or reduced-price meals because of school closures.

— Sarah Fentem and Rachel Lippmann

9 a.m. Thursday, April 16

Happy Public Radio Music Day! We’ve joined with hundreds of other public radio stations across the country to celebrate local music in honor of the holiday. Take a break from the news and join us at 7 tonight on Facebook Live for performances by local musicians Tonina, Beth Bombara, Adult Fur and Syna So Pro. See more details in our blog post.

Another way to experience Public Radio Music Day with us is to explore our curated playlists to learn about St. Louis music, past and present; check out former STL Tiny Desk contestants; and listen to song favorites from our staff. You can stream those playlists on St. Louis Public Radio’s Spotify page.

The coronavirus infection rate in St. Louis County differs dramatically by race, according to county data. The overall infection rate is 190 cases per 100,000 residents. But when you break the numbers down by race, the infection rate for black residents grows to 293 cases per 100,000 people; for white residents, the rate is 71 cases per 100,000 people. 

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro: 3,831 positive cases; 136 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 4,895 cases; 161 deaths.
  • Illinois: 24,593 cases; 948 deaths.

— Lindsay Toler

8:10 p.m. Wednesday, April 15

Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway is looking for answers after the State Emergency Management Agency distributed 48,000 faulty KN95 masks to first responders. Galloway, the likely 2020 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, sent a letter to Gov. Mike Parson’s office today requesting information about the procurement, purchase and funding of the masks and how taxpayers might recoup the costs of the defective equipment.

Galloway’s office is examining how Missouri distributes federal funding it receives for COVID-19 response and relief programs.

Stimulus checks started arriving in Missourians’ bank accounts on Wednesday, but that’s only for taxpayers with direct deposit information on file with the IRS. The $1,200 stimulus payments are expected to take a lot longer to reach individuals waiting on paper checks.

The federal stimulus fund to help small businesses during the pandemic is almost out of money, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt said today. Blunt wants Congress to consider more funds when it reconvenes next month.

He also said he is disappointed by how the World Health Organization and the U.S. handled the coronavirus pandemic. The Republican senator’s comments come one day after President Donald Trump said he would cut U.S. financial support to the WHO. The U.S. provides about 20% of the organization’s total budget. 

Thirty Gold’s Gym locations nationwide, including all 10 in the St. Louis region, will close permanently because of the coronavirus outbreak, the company announced on its Facebook page.

“The COVID-19-related closures have caused us to reassess the viability of some company-owned locations,” the company told individual gym members in a letter provided to St. Louis Public Radio.

— Eric Schmid

5 p.m. Wednesday, April 15

COVID-19-related hospitalizations are expected to peak in St. Louis next week, according to officials on the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

Dr. Alex Garza, who leads the group, anticipates between 600 and 700 patients will need hospitalization at that time, with as many as 180 patients in intensive care units. Garza predicts 71,000 people in the region will have been infected by the coronavirus by the end of April. 

The St. Louis region is beginning to “bend the curve” thanks to social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders, he said. But relaxing those restrictions too soon could cause a second peak of infections, more deadly than the first, Garza warned. He said stay-at-home orders should remain in effect until at least mid-May.

As of Wednesday, there are 707 hospitalizations related to COVID-19 in the bi-state St. Louis area, up slightly from 702 yesterday. The number of patients in the ICU fell to 175 from 185 during that same timeframe, while patients using ventilators rose to 149 from 145.

Will Missouri Gov. Mike Parson extend the state’s stay-at-home order? Tune in tomorrow, the governor said Wednesday. 

Parson said he will address the future of the statewide order “after a number of conversations with local elected officials and other governors.” The current order is set to expire next week on Friday, April 24.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly extended her state’s stay-at-home order on Wednesday, a decision she said she made in collaboration with Parson. Kansas’ order was to expire Sunday, April 19. It is now extended until Sunday, May 3. 

“We are taking this action in collaboration with Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri, as well as Kansas City metro mayors,” Kelly said at her briefing on Wednesday. “We believe a regional approach will reduce confusion and help keep our communities safe on both sides of the state line.”

Illinois faces a projected $2.7 million revenue shortfall in the state’s current budget year and a $4.6 billion shortfall in the next budget year, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced during his daily coronavirus press briefing today. 

Pritzker pledged to work with the state Legislature to pass a full budget for the 2021 fiscal year. He also directed the state’s Office of Management and Budget to freeze all nonessential hiring, travel and operational expenditures for the rest of the 2020 fiscal year.

The campaign to legalize recreational marijuana in Missouri this year is over. The initiative will fall short of the 170,000 signatures needed to land it on November’s ballot, according to the Missouri affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. The campaign says it was hindered by social distancing, limited public gatherings and closed businesses. 

— Corinne Ruff, Eric Schmid and Jaclyn Driscoll

3:05 p.m. Wednesday, April 15

St. Louis and St. Louis County will extend stay-at-home orders beyond April 22, Mayor Lyda Krewson announced this afternoon. She did not provide a date for when the orders would be lifted, saying only that the city and county governments would work together to set one.

“The public risk is too great to lift the order at this time,” Krewson said.

The city will release racial demographic data for individuals who have tested positive for the coronavirus later today or early tomorrow, Krewson said. Black St. Louisans make up the majority of coronavirus cases and deaths in the city, she said. 

“Of the positive cases in St. Louis, 71% are African Americans,” she said. “All but four or five of the deaths in St. Louis are also among African Americans.”

Franklin County officials say they may allow restaurants and personal care businesses to reopen as soon as next weekend, as long as Gov. Mike Parson doesn’t extend the statewide stay-at-home order beyond April 24. 

That announcement comes the same day that the county reported a 93-year-old woman died of COVID-19. The woman was a resident of the Grandview nursing home facility. Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said there were no new coronavirus cases to report Wednesday, adding that 23 county residents have recovered from the virus.

Missouri lost 20,900 jobs in March, according to the state Department of Economic Development’s latest jobs report. The state’s unemployment rate jumped from 3.5% to 4.5% between February and March.

That report reflects a portion of the damage the coronavirus outbreak dealt to Missouri's economy. Thousands more jobs in the state have been cut in April. Those numbers are expected to be reflected in the next jobs report, due out in May.

Eric Schmid and Jason Rosenbaum

11:06 a.m. Wednesday, April 15

The St. Louis region's stay-at-home orders likely will not end soon, County Executive Sam Page said today.

St. Louis County’s stay-at-home order is set to expire on April 22. But Page told reporters at a press briefing that he may decide later this week to extend that measure. He said he’s discussing the matter with other regional leaders and public health officials.

“If we ease our stay-at-home order too soon, then we could rebound and be in a much more difficult and precarious position than we are currently,” Page said. “Our social distancing measures are working, but we’re not there yet.”

Page said 58 people from St. Louis County have died of COVID-19.

The Silver Dollar City amusement park near Branson will begin furloughing employees on April 20. The 257-person furlough also affects the Showboat Branson Belle riverboat attraction and the Silver Dollar City Campgrounds. 

Like other amusement parks in Missouri and around the country, the Silver Dollar City theme park’s openinghas been delayed because of coronavirus concerns. 

Trainees at Fort Leonard Wood will remain on base to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.

During a briefing today, officials at the southern Missouri military base said current basic trainees and advanced individual training trainees will not be allowed to go home. These soldiers will only be moved to their next station when higher-ranking military officials say it’s safe to do so.

— Jason Rosenbaum

9 a.m. Wednesday, April 15

Good morning, and happy Tax Day. Thanks to the outbreak, you have extra time to file your taxes this year. The deadline for federal and state income taxes has been pushed to July 15, as has the St. Louis earnings tax deadline.

Speaking of money, has your stimulus check arrived yet? Most people will receive a check from the federal coronavirus legislation in the coming weeks. We’ve got great info from reporter Jason Rosenbaum about what to expect here: What You Need To Know About Coronavirus Stimulus Checks

A CareSTL coronavirus testing site in north St. Louis is temporarily closed after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. Until the clinic in the Ville Neighborhood reopens on April 27, individuals who were scheduled to be tested there can instead go to CareSTL’s other north city testing site at 5471 Martin Luther King Drive. 

St. Louis announced two more deaths associated with COVID-19 yesterday: a black man and a white man, both in their 80s. 

Here are the latest coronavirus counts

  • St. Louis metro: 3,682 positive cases; 122 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 4,686 cases; 151 deaths.
  • Illinois: 23,247 cases; 868 deaths.

Thank you to all the folks who sent me emails about life in quarantine yesterday. Keep them coming: ltoler@stlpublicradio.org

— Lindsay Toler

4:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 14

Missourians can now buy mixed drinks to go. In an effort to help restaurants and bars, the state’s Department of Public Safety temporarily suspended a rule that prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages that are not in their original container. The beverage must be in a sealable container and must be purchased with a meal.

“This change is being done to assist restaurant owners as well as their employees during this time of unprecedented restrictions,” said Sandy Karsten, director of the Department of Public Safety. 

Karsten also announced the state is expected to receive 200,000 N95 respirator masks Tuesday evening. She said the department will work quickly to ship the masks to first responders in need across the state. 

Missouri will receive $66.5 million through the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Karsten said. The supplemental budget lawmakers recently passed allocated $20 million of that grant to be spent by July 1. Gov. Mike Parson said on Tuesday this will primarily be used to expand child care services across the state, specifically for first responders’ children. 

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force announced in its daily briefing that coronavirus hospitalizations in the region increased to 702 on Tuesday from 634 on Monday. But the number of people in local hospitals’ intensive care units stayed about the same: 189 on Monday to 185 on Tuesday. Patients who required ventilators dropped to 145 on Tuesday from 160 on Monday.

St. Louis should expect to see more infections and hospitalizations in the coming days. The region has not seen the peak of its coronavirus outbreak yet, said Dr. Alex Garza, the head of the task force.

Garza also warned elected officials to be cautious when it comes to relaxing stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines. Trying to bounce back too soon might cause a second wave of the coronavirus, he said.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page is asking the St. Louis County Council to approve spending an additional $7 million on the coronavirus response. The funding would help expand testing and get coronavirus-related treatment to people who might not have access to regular health care, he said in a letter to the county.

Page said he is optimistic that the federal government will eventually reimburse the county for this $7 million expenditure if the council signs off on it. 

The Cardinals’ community foundation, Cardinals Care, will provide $1 million worth of financial relief to 1,900 contract workers who typically work at the stadium during baseball games. This includes concession stand workers, emergency medical personnel, security staff and cleaning crews, according to a press release sent Tuesday. Every person who applies for a grant will get at least $450. 

The relief fund is part of a multi-team effort across Major League Baseball to compensate a different group of game-day employees that includes ushers, scoreboard operators, grounds crew people, retail staff and carpenters. Those grants range from $500 to $1,275. They went to about 1,350 people, according to the press release. 

— Julie O’Donoghue and Jaclyn Driscoll

12:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 14

The University of Missouri system is expecting to take heavy financial lossesthat could approach $180 million. To prepare, the system’s president, chancellors, cabinet members and deans are taking 10% salary cuts from May until at least August. The universities have asked other senior leaders and administrators to take similar cuts.

The university is also attempting to cut 15% of its overall budget and will consider layoffs, unpaid leaves, restructuring and budgeting. Officials plan to announce these decisions by April 30. It will also continue previously announced cost-cutting measures such as spending and hiring restrictions. 

Most St. Louis University summer students will take online courses instead of in-person classes. Some courses that require in-person activities, such as labs, will be canceled. The university said summer-only housing may not be available. 

SLU’s schools of medicine, law and dental education are still scheduled for in-person classes. 

The university is also canceling June summer camps. 

Missouri’s airports are getting about $152 million in federal aid to keep services running and replace lost revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The grant funding comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act's airport program. It will help 75 airports in Missouri, including St. Louis Lambert International Airport and the Spirit of St. Louis Airport. 

Together Credit Union, formerly the Anheuser-Busch Employees’ Credit Union, has donated more than 1,200 N95 masks to the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force and Abbott EMS. 

An official from the union said it discovered it had a surplus of the masks. 

“We are proud to support and thank the medical professionals who risk exposure daily in their vital role caring for patients,” said Pier Alsup, a community engagement officer with the union. 

The Monroe County Health Department in Illinois has announced a drive-up hand sanitizer program. Department officials said they plan to release more information Wednesday. 

— Kae Petrin

9 a.m. Tuesday, April 14

Good morning, folks. Let’s do a check-in: On a scale of 1 to 10, how are you doing today? These are strange times, and we’d like to know how you’re managing. Send me an email at: LToler@stlpublicradio.org

St. Louis County is building a temporary morgue in case the day comes when deaths from COVID-19 exceed the county’s current capacity, as first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The complex in Earth City would store bodies of people who died of the disease.

From the newspaper

A Post-Dispatch journalist on Monday saw heating and air conditioning contractors and electrical workers working at a light industrial facility, under guard by a county police officer. The facility is expected to open by the end of the week, said Doug Moore, a spokesman for County Executive Sam Page.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said concerns over the outbreak are behind her decision to withdraw six of her nominees to the Board of Freeholders, the group that could makes recommendations on a merger with St. Louis County. She pulled two others because they are now running for public office. Read yesterday’s late-breaking update: Krewson Withdraws Nominations To Freeholders Board.

Here are the latest coronavirus counts

  • St. Louis metro: 3,439 positive cases; 108 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 4,388 cases; 132 deaths.
  • Illinois: 22,025 cases; 794 deaths.

Lindsay Toler

7:35 p.m. Monday, April 13

Another nursing home resident in St. Charles has died, according to St. Charles County health officials. The patient, a woman in her 90s, was a resident of Frontier Health and Rehabilitation, according to a statement released by the facility Monday evening. 

In total, nine of the 14 people who have died of COVID-19 in St. Charles County were residents at that nursing facility. 

At least 60 residents and 12 employees at Frontier Health and Rehabilitation have tested positive for the coronavirus. Four residents are now hospitalized, and all others are isolated in quarantine on-site. All infected staff members are now quarantined in their homes.

Missouri schools will receive $208 million in coronavirus response funding through the federal CARES Act, Sen. Roy Blunt said Monday. The funding will be used to support remote-learning efforts during the outbreak and improve the use of education technology in K-12 schools.

A new drive-thru testing location will open in Florissant on April 17. The test site will be located at the Betty Jean Kerr People’s Health Centers on West Florissant Road, according to the St. Louis American. Residents with symptoms of COVID-19 should call the center at 314-627-5405 to schedule an appointment. 

— Shahla Farzan

6 p.m. Monday, April 13

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson is asking city election officials to postpone the May 19 special elections for the 4th and 12th Ward seats on the Board of Aldermen.

In a letter sent to the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners on Monday, Krewson said it’s unlikely a stay-at-home order limiting people from conducting all but essential business will be lifted before the current election date.

“As a consequence, people may be unable to vote in person without violating the health commissioner’s orders and, more importantly, risking their lives and the lives of others,” Krewson said. She also cited concerns with securing enough polling places and election judges, many of whom are often older residents.

Gov. Mike Parson had already rescheduled until June 2 municipal elections previously set for April 7.

Missouri state legislators are expected to return to work April 27.

The Missouri House and Senate are scheduled to resume their regular session April 27, according to a tweet from Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, on Monday. 

“We will continue to work toward finding the right balance between protecting the safety of #MOLeg members, staff and the public and understanding the critical nature of the work we have been elected to do for the people of Missouri,” the Senate majority leader wrote. 

Three St. Louis County Council members want County Executive Sam Page to reopen certain county parks.

Councilmen Tim Fitch, Ernie Trakas and Mark Harder submitted a letter to Page on Monday, asking him to consider opening eight parks — Queeny, Jefferson Barracks, St. Vincent, Creve Coeur, Greensfelder, Sioux Passage and Tillis.

Residents are “fully informed on the need for caution,” they argued, and will follow appropriate social distancing rules. 

Page said he plans to reopen the parks as soon as it is safe to do so. “Our parks director has been working on a plan to implement when the time is right," Page said.

The XFL filed for bankruptcy Monday, according to court documents

Citing the economic impact of the coronavirus, the professional football league suspended operations and laid off its staff Friday. During its short tenure, the St. Louis BattleHawks developed an enthusiastic fan following — and a piercing battle cry. The Battlehawks were 3-2 when the league shut down in late March.

— Shahla Farzan and Rachel Lippmann

4:25 p.m. Monday, April 13

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force announced hospitalizations have increased from 607 on Sunday to 634 Monday. The number of patients in intensive care units dropped from 211 on Sunday to 189 Monday. 

“Had we not taken those important steps weeks ago, we would have been in a much more difficult situation right now,” said Dr. Alex Garza, head of the task force. “But I want to be clear that we’re still very concerned about the virus circulating in the community, it’s still there and it still poses a risk to our family, friends and neighbors and it will continue to grow.” 

The task force is also looking into ways uninsured people or those without a primary care doctor can be examined in clinics for follow-up care after being discharged from a hospital. Garza said health care systems are pooling data to study how COVID-19 trends relate to age, geographic location and more.

If hospitals run out of room, patients with COVID-19 could be treated at a Quality Inn in Florissant

Missouri officials announced Monday that the hotel has been converted into an alternate hospital if needed. It would be capable of serving more than 100 people who have mild cases of COVID-19 or who have tested positive but don’t have symptoms, said Sandy Karsten, director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety. 

The Missouri State Emergency Management Agency has recalled 48,000 N95 masks that were given in early April to first responders. 

Missouri health officials tested the masks and found that they did not meet standards, Karsten said. State officials have formed a working group focused on addressing deficient protective equipment. 

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services plans to set up plasma donation centers that would allow people who have recovered from COVID-19 to give plasma to those who are seriously ill with the disease.

The FDA in March approved Washington University’s application to study the effectiveness of using plasma donations to treat patients infected by the coronavirus.

— Chad Davis and Eli Chen

2:25 p.m. Monday, April 13

The first and, so far, only St. Louis County police officer to test positive for COVID-19 has returned to duty.

Officer Nathan Phillips, who works out of the 1st Precinct in North County, went back to work on Saturday after three weeks. He did not contract the virus while on duty.

His wife, who also tested positive for the virus, and his stepson are both healthy as well.

“You never like leaving people having to pick up the slack for you,” Phillips said. “I had offered to get a computer at home and take reports over the phone if they needed me to, but with our staffing situation, they told me it wouldn’t be necessary.”

Six residents at a Jefferson County nursing home have tested positive for COVID-19. They live at Festus Manor Care Center. 

Officials say the residents will be transferred to a hospital if their care requirements “go beyond what we can manage.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration will give about $62 million to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The funds will be used for operating expenses and capital assistance for 30 Missouri rural agencies.

Washington University in St. Louis will launch clinical trials to test if an antidepressant can be repurposed to treat COVID-19 patients.

The trials will utilize the drug, fluvoxamine, which is used to treat patients with obsessive compulsive disorder. Patients who tested positive for coronavirus and don’t need to be hospitalized will participate in the trials.

Researchers will examine if the drug could help prevent the “cytokine storm,” in which the immune system overreacts to the virus, which can lead to fatal results.

Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla will use two residence halls for temporary housing for the Phelps Health medical staff treating coronavirus patients. 

The two buildings have a total of 336 bedrooms and 147 suites. The university moved to online-only classes last month. 

— Rachel Lippmann, Shahla Farzan and Chad Davis

Noon Monday, April 13

St. Louis County will spend several million dollars on testing supplies over the next few weeks, County Executive Sam Page said Monday morning. He said each test costs $15 to $25.
“We will work with our regional partners to make sure that testing is available widely in our community,” Page said. 

In the event that hospitals are overrun with patients, Page said a west county hotel could be used to serve patients who need to be isolated while they recover from COVID-19 but who aren’t critically ill. “We believe that the hotel facilities will be adequate, at this time we don’t believe we’ll need anything more than that,” Page said. 

Page said that the county’s social distancing orders could be extended and that any easing of social distancing measures would happen in stages. A spokesperson for Page said the stay-at-home will likely be extended as well.

A St. Louis University alumnus has donated $750,000 for COVID-19 vaccination research at the university. Stephen C. Peiper and his wife, Zi-Xuan Wang, made the donation. The gift will establish an institute for vaccine science and policy named after the couple at the university.

As part of an international research study, SLU doctors are using an experimental drug to treat hospitalized patients who have COVID-19.

St. Louis’ ban on restaurants offering dine-in meals has been extended until May 1. 

— Chad Davis

9 a.m. Monday, April 13

Good morning, and welcome to Day 34 of St. Louis Public Radio’s coronavirus live blog coverage.

A new website called Meals for Meds is partnering with local restaurants to make it easier to donate meals to frontline health care workers in St. Louis. For example, money donated to barbecue restaurant Salt + Smoke goes toward sending meals to Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Want to donate? Just choose which restaurant you want to support and submit your donation. Are you a health care worker looking for meals? You can submit your hospital here

Here are the latest coronavirus counts

  • St. Louis metro: 3,333 positive cases; 91 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 4,160 cases; 115 deaths.
  • Illinois: 20,852 cases; 720 deaths.

Stay safe, and wash your hands.
— Lindsay Toler

Read updates from last week or earlier in our blog archive

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