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Coronavirus In The St. Louis Region: April 20-26, 2020

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

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

10:35 p.m. Sunday, April 26

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page on Monday will announce new members of an advisory group that will guide the administration on spending federal money to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this month, Page announced Cindy Brinkley would be a senior advisor of the group, County Cares. The advisory group will focus on three areas: public health, humanitarian relief and economic recovery.

Page will make the announcement at his regularly scheduled briefing at 8:30 a.m.

Another resident of hard-hit Frontier Health and Rehabilitation in St. Charles has died, the St. Charles County health department announced Sunday.

The resident of the nursing home was a man in his 80s. There have been a total of 31 COVID-19 deaths in the county, including another man in his 80s on Sunday.

— Fred Ehrlich

3:25 p.m. Sunday, April 26

As states plan to restart their economies, Illinois' governor said Sunday that he has not spoken with his Missouri counterpart about a coordinated approach to allowing businesses to open

At his daily briefing, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Missouri has "gone in a different direction than we have" but added that county health officials in the St. Louis area are "coordinating across the boundaries."

Pritzker has extended a stay-at-home order in Illinois until the end of May, with some changes. He added businesses including greenhouses, garden centers and animal grooming services to the list of those considered essential. 

In Missouri, Gov. Mike Parson is planning on allowing many more Missouri businesses to reopen starting May 4. But local officials can override that state order.

Also Sunday, the most recent information from the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force suggested the outbreak could be cresting in the region.

The number of patients in hospital intensive care units dropped slightly from Saturday. Task force officials said another 20 patients left hospitals Saturday, bringing the total number of those discharged since the outbreak began to 1,102.

Those statistics follow a milestone Saturday in the region. The head of the task force, Dr. Alex Garza, said those with coronavirus now infect others at a rate of less than one person. That rate was approximately two when social distancing guidelines were put in place in mid-March.

— Wayne Pratt

8 a.m. Sunday, April 26

Good morning. It’s Sunday, another week of stay-at-home down. While cases and deaths continue to rise, there are small signs of hope. Dr. Alex Garza, director of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said Saturday that the rate of infection fell below one, meaning the pace of new cases is slowing and may start dropping soon. 

Still, Jersey and Clinton counties in the Metro East both recorded their first deaths from the disease. And Garza warned that the high period of infections will be more of a crest than a peak, followed by a sharp drop.

If you’ve been making cloth face masks with a fury, or work with a vulnerable group and can’t seem to stitch fast enough, here’s a resource for you: MaskBot STL is connecting mask-maskers with mask-needers in St. Louis

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro: 5,151 positive cases; 231 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 6,826 cases; 273 deaths.
  • Illinois: 41,777 cases; 1,874 deaths.

A call-out to high school seniors: Your proms and graduations are at a high risk of being canceled; they’re delayed by months, at least. What are your friends or school doing to make sure your senior year is still special? Let us know by emailing your story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org. (We may ask you to record your story or use it in our reporting.)

Enjoy the sunshine today.

— Ryan Delaney

4:15 p.m. Saturday, April 25

The spread of coronavirus infections in the St. Louis metro area has slowed to an important milestone — for now, at least. The current infection rate, or number of additional people someone with the coronavirus infects, is less than one. Dr. Alex Garza, head of the regional pandemic task force, said Saturday that the achievement is “huge progress” and a sign that the social distancing measures put in place are working. When they went into effect March 13, the infection rate was about two.

“That reduction gives us confidence that spread is decreasing in the community, and that further gives us confidence that we can gradually and safely bring more of our economy back online,” Garza said. 

Today is the projected peak of COVID-19 cases in St. Louis. However, Garza said it’s too early to know if health care systems are dealing with the peak, because data and statistics are delayed a few days.

Overall COVID-19 hospitalizations and the number of the patients under intensive care dropped from Friday, Garza said, though use of ventilators is up slightly. Garza said “crest” is a better word to use than “peak,” because cases won’t drop off suddenly after hitting a high point. 

St. Louis’ four major hospital systems have discharged a combined 1,082 patients who were treated for COVID-19. St. Louis County Executive Sam Page called surpassing the 1,000 mark “a huge achievement by our region’s healthcare workers,” in a tweet Saturday morning.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker can’t say when youth sports leagues will be able to resume practices and games. Pritzker said at his briefing Saturday that he’s eager for youth activities to get back in action, but he didn’t forecast when that will happen. Colleges and youth centers have begun canceling summer camps for at least June, including Southern Illinois University.

Pritzker shot back against calls for him to drop a tax measure to be voted on in November. The Illinois Business Alliance wants the governor to stop the effort because of the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic. 

The alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group, said that during an economic crisis is not the time to raise people’s taxes. The governor contends the tax change won’t affect people who’ve lost wages because of the pandemic.

“Now more than ever, we need to have a fair tax system,” Pritzker said.

The General Assembly in 2019 approved replacing the state’s flat income tax with a graduated one. Voters are scheduled to decide the matter this fall.

— Ryan Delaney

8:25 a.m. Saturday, April 25

Good morning, and welcome to the weekend. It’s a wet one so far, but the National Weather Service on Friday downgraded its forecast for severe flooding by the Mississippi and Missouri rivers because it's been a dry spring. Cases of the coronavirus, however, are still rising. Illinois reported its largest one-day increase in cases yesterday, explained possibly by a large increase in testing.

Another resident of a hard-hit St. Charles nursing home has died of COVID-19. The St. Charles County Health Department said Friday night a woman in her 90s who was living at Frontier Health and Rehabilitation died of the virus. Also Friday, two men in their 70s and 80s, respectively, died of the disease, bringing the county’s total deaths to 29.

A thousand St. Louis residents have now tested positive for the coronavirus. The city’s public health department made that announcement Friday evening. Of those, 47 city residents have died as a result of the virus.

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro: 5,055 positive cases; 225 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 6,625 cases; 262 deaths.
  • Illinois: 39,658 cases; 1,795 deaths.

We’d always like to hear from you: Do you have questions about the coronavirus? Submit them to our Curious Louis feature, and we’ll try to get answers. We can answer this one: Please don’t drink or inject any cleaning products. Have a healthy weekend.

— Ryan Delaney

7:40 p.m. Friday, April 24

Officials in Madison County, Illinois, have announced COVID-19 clusters at three nursing homes in the county.

County health director Toni Corona said 66 residents at the three nursing homes are sick, and 12 have died. One facility has 54 of the cases and all 12 deaths. One person who came in contact with a sick resident also has tested positive.

Madison County does not identify the nursing homes, but the website of the Illinois Department of Public Health showed the Edwardsville Care Center with 47 cases and 10 resident deaths as of April 24. Though the data on the state website are updated weekly, it was not clear when the last update occurred.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, is among a bipartisan group of senators asking the federal government to boost its advertising in local media to help blunt the financial impact of the coronavirus.

“Our radio and television broadcasters and rural newspapers provide local and national news, emergency alerts, educational programs, and more to all corners of the United States. In many rural areas, broadcast stations are the predominant or only form of local information,” the 74 senators wrote in a letter sent Thursday to the federal Office of Management and Budget.

“We encourage the Office of Management and Budget to work with federal agencies throughout the government to increase advertising in local newspapers and on broadcast stations in order to help ensure they are able to continue to operate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” the senators wrote.

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Illinois Democrats, also signed the letter. Blunt’s Republican colleague from Missouri, Josh Hawley, did not.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol is set to resume written commercial drivers’ license tests Monday on a limited basis.

The patrol asks that only those considered essential workers sign up for the exams until the statewide stay-at-home order expires. Potential applicants should call the patrol branch in their area to find the exact testing location. Attendance will be limited to comply with social distancing guidelines, and test-takers must wear masks or other face coverings.

St. Louis University head basketball coach Travis Ford has donated 2,000 face shields to St. Louis University Hospital. A spokesman for the hospital said a SLU cardiologist who is a friend of the athletics department helped coordinate the shipments.

— Rachel Lippmann

4 p.m. Friday, April 24

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is moving forward with his plan to open “most businesses” throughout the state by May 4. 

On Thursday, he said the details of that plan would be released on Friday. However at his press briefing on Friday, he pushed that back until next week. He did say social distancing guidelines will still be in place once businesses reopen.

He said businesses such as barber shops and fitness centers will be allowed to open. Even though social distancing won’t be possible, he hinted that some protective equipment might be required. 

“I think there will be safety guidelines put in place for that. Whether it be protective gear, or there will be guidance for that, how we’ll do that,” he said. “I don’t think you’re going to need government to regulate everything about how you run your business.” 

Parson also extended the state of emergency until June 15. This is not the same as the statewide stay-at-home order. The declaration allows states to access resources quicker during an emergency.

As Parson touts re-opening the state’s economy, St. Louis doctors think it’s too soon.

“We want to see a sustained decrease in our number of hospitalizations,” said Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, which comprises the region’s four largest health systems. “We’re not there yet.”

The region is still on “the upward curve” of hospitalizations, Garza said. He expects the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals topeak within the next few days.

Once that number decreases, businesses will need to reopen gradually and with increased safety measures, he said. 

Illinois reported 2,724 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the highest 24-hour increase in cases since the beginning of the pandemic. 

The high case count is likely due to a large increase in testing at state-run labs, said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. The agency completed more than 16,000 tests In the 24-hour period ending Friday, more than exceeding the 10,000-tests-a-day goal set by Gov. J.B. Pritzker earlier this month. 

Testing “is key to our ability to map the presence of the virus and reduce our mitigation measures and get more people back to work,” Pritzker said.

State health officials will use widespread testing to identify places where the coronavirus is spreading, Ezike said. State and local governments could increase or decrease containment efforts such as stay-at-home orders based on viral activity.

A St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officer who had been seriously ill with COVID-19 has been released from the hospital. On Friday, Mayor Lyda Krewson said in a Facebook Livestream that she was sending her prayers to the family of the officer as he continues to recover at home, and was glad to be able to report “a spot of good news.”

Krewson said the pandemic has made it difficult to hire outreach workers for Cure Violence, an anti-violence effort that was expected to launch in the spring in the Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood. This comes as the city is running ahead of its homicide total from last year. Funding for the program is included in the budget for 2021, but the remaining two years could be in doubt if the revenue picture continues to get worse.

The minds behind the annual Heritage Festival beer tasting in Forest Park have arranged a virtual concert and benefit for local brewery employees who have been laid off or had their hours cut because of the pandemic.

The two-day event from the St. Louis Brewers Heritage Foundation, Community Transmission, is April 25 and 26. One hundred percent of the donations, plus the sale of merchandise, will go to help those employees out financially.

— Sarah Fentem, Rachel Lippmann and Jaclyn Driscoll

1:10 p.m. Friday, April 24

The overflow morgue in St. Louis County began accepting bodies this week. The facility, referred to as the Dignified Transfer Center, received a second body Friday morning. The first arrived Wednesday.

The makeshift mortuary, capable of housing 1,300 bodies, was built earlier this month into an Earth City industrial park warehouse. The center will provide overflow support to funeral homes, morgues and hospitals in the St. Louis region during the pandemic. Its $2 million cost was shared by St. Louis and St. Louis, St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin counties. 

St. Louis County plans to more than double its number of coronavirus “contact tracers,” County Executive Sam Page said in a press conference Friday morning.

The county plans to use federal funding to hire 100 more workers to track down people who might have had contact with someone known to have tested positive for the coronavirus. The county has 70 people currently doing that work. 

The county will also put out a bid Friday to purchase more coronavirus tests. Page said the county wants to acquire “as many tests as possible” with the federal funding the county expects to receive. He did not say how much the county was willing to pay for the tests.

Advocates for affordable housing are urging St. Louis officials to limit cuts to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year provides the fund with the legal minimum of $5 million, compared to $6.6 million in the current budget. 

Supporters want to ensure that programs including financial assistance for rent and home repairs receive at least the same amount next year. They say the coronavirus pandemic will drastically increase the need for those programs.

Mayor Lyda Krewson, aldermanic President Lewis Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green all support trying to find additional funding for the trust fund, but they will need the support of the Board of Aldermen to do it. The city is trying to close a budget gap of $40 million.

State officials have created a website that allows residents to track how Missouri spends nearly $1.2 billion in funding from the CARES Act. The federal relief money is being given to the state to address the public health and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

— Rachel Lippmann, Sarah Fentem and Julie O’Donoghue

9 a.m. Friday, April 24

Good morning.

The Collinsville Chamber of Commerce canceled the city’s 33rd annual horseradish festival because of the coronavirus pandemic. The chamber cited public health as the main reason for calling off this year’s event. The festival, which would have been held June 5-6, will return in 2021, organizers said. 

Nineteen inmates at the Southeast Correctional Center have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections. The inmates are in a quarantined housing wing of the Charleston prison. Three prison staff members who had tested positive earlier this month and all staff with whom they had close contact are in quarantine at home.

If you’re looking for informative weekend listening, don’t miss this week’s episode of the We Live Here podcast about how structural racism affects the response to the pandemic

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro: 5,078 positive cases; 231 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 6,321 cases; 250 deaths.
  • Illinois: 36,934 cases; 1,688 deaths.

We’d like to hear from you: Are you currently unemployed and struggling to navigate Missouri's unemployment insurance system? Are you willing to talk to a reporter about what you’re experiencing? Inform our reporting by contacting Kae Petrin at kpetrin@stlpublicradio.org or 314-329-5782.

— Lindsay Toler and Eric Schmid

8 p.m. Thursday, April 23

CareSTL Health’s COVID-19 testing site in north St. Louis will reopen on April 27. The site on Whittier Street temporarily closed on April 15 after a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus. 

The community-based health care system said all other employees at the location were asked to quarantine. CareSTL Health officials said none of those employees tested positive for the coronavirus, and workers have cleaned the testing facility.

Two more COVID-19 testing sites are coming to the Metro East: one in Belleville and one in Granite City. The Belleville facility started accepting patients today, with the site in Granite City opening tomorrow, according to a press release from SIHF Healthcare, the same company that opened a testing site in East St. Louis

People who want to be tested for the coronavirus at these sites will be screened by phone for symptoms, possible exposure, underlying health conditions and other factors before they can be tested.

St. Louis University will face budget cuts, the university’s president, Fred P. Pestello, announced today. He did not provide specifics on the shortfall the institution faces, or how the university would cut costs. We’ll update as more details emerge. 

Independent and new party candidates in Illinois will only need to submit 2,500 signatures to get on the Nov. 3 ballot, according to a court order from Chief U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer. The order also allows candidates to file petitions to be on the ballot in August, six weeks later than the original date. 

Pallmeyer issued the order after independent candidates and the Illinois Libertarian and Green parties raised concerns that social distancing measures would preclude them from gathering the necessary signatures.

— Eric Schmid

4:18 p.m. Thursday, April 23

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker will extend the state’s stay-at-home order until May 31, with some modifications. The original order was set to expire on April 30.

Under the order, which takes effect May 1, Illinois residents older than 2 will need to wear a mask in public indoor spaces and outdoors when they cannot maintain a social distance of six feet, Pritkzer said Thursday.

Pritzker also deemed greenhouses, garden centers and nurseries essential and said nonessential retail stores would be able to resume business to fulfill online orders for curbside pick-up or delivery.

Illinois also will reopen state parks in phases starting on May 1, but visitors will have to stay at least six feet apart, Pritzker said.

“If we start to see crowds, or people violating the rules, I will bring back restrictions,” he said.

Pritzker also activated about 210 additional Illinois National Guard members to help with the state’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. They will help the Illinois Department of Public Health screen patients.

The state announced more than 1,800 new cases of COVID-19 and 123 additional deaths today.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson will unveil his plan for reopening the state’s businesses on Friday. Parson said at a press briefing Thursday that he remains committed to opening “most businesses” by May 4. 

Despite concerns by health professionals that lifting Missouri’s stay-at-home order soon could lead to a second wave of coronavirus cases, Parson said the state is in a much better position now and officials have a better understanding of the virus.

“I think we’re going to be much more prepared for that second wave when it comes … if it comes,” he said. “But the one thing I do realize is you have to do both: You have to be able to fight the virus, and we have to open up the economy.”

The St. Louis Metropolitan Task Force reports that 694 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized in the St. Louis region, up from 685 on Wednesday. There are 123 ventilators in use — down from 133. 

The Illinois Department of Employment Security announced it had processed more than 755,000 initial unemployment claims from March 1 through April 18. The department has paid more than $700 million in unemployment benefits since early March.

Eric Schmid and Jaclyn Driscoll

12:45 p.m. Thursday, April 23

The St. Louis County Circuit Court has made it easier for victims of domestic violence to seek protection. The court is now allowing people to file for orders of protection online rather than requiring that the paperwork be filled out at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Clayton. The change comes as some crisis intervention hotlines in the region are reporting an increase in call volumes.

The online application process is available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. The court will soon make the process available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson will host an online town hall for kids next week. Children in grades K-5 can submit questions to the mayorup to a day before the event begins at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, April 30.

The city has created a website showing how it’s spending money related to the COVID-19 response, Krewson’s office announced today. The site also includes contracts and leases the city has entered into on an emergency basis through its health department, but it does not include information about overtime pay for some city employees. 

— Jason Rosenbaum

9 a.m. Thursday, April 23

Good morning, and happy Thursday. 

The Moolah Theater and Lounge will not reopen after the coronavirus outbreak passes, which is a major bummer. Ownership group St. Louis Cinemas said it only has enough revenue to keep Chase Park Plaza Cinema and MX Movies and Bar open. Read our full story for more details.

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft will be on St. Louis On the Air at noon today. He’ll talk to host Sarah Fenske about how to hold safe elections during the pandemic. Submit a question to be asked on the show by emailing talk@stlpublicradio.org

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro: 4,824 positive cases; 207 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 6,137 cases; 225 deaths.
  • Illinois: 35,108 cases; 1,565 deaths.

Would you weigh in on a conversation we’re having in the newsroom? We’re brainstorming questions and story ideas about how businesses and schools will reopen after quarantine. Are you planning ahead for life after lockdown? What do you want to know about how Missouri and Illinois will open back up in the future? How will you know when it’s safe to change your current routine? Email me: ltoler@stlpublicradio.org.

— Lindsay Toler

8:15 p.m. Wednesday, April 22

Two more inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections. 

The facility has more staff and inmates testing positive for the virus than any other part of the prison system. In total, three inmates and three staff members at Southeast Correctional Center have been diagnosed for coronavirus, according to data provided by the state.

Across the system, five inmates have tested positive for the virus, with one dying. Thirteen corrections employees have also tested positive. 

Missouri has tested a total of 66 inmates overall for coronavirus. The corrections department did not provide information about how many staff members have been tested. 

The Belleville News-Democrat reports that the number of people to test positive for COVID-19 or show symptoms of the respiratory disease at Four Fountains in Belleville has doubled since Sunday, when the health department began reporting outbreaks at long-term care facilities.

In the health department’s first update on those facilities Sunday, it reported eight people at Four Fountains either had symptoms or a formal diagnosis and that one person had died. To date, there has been no increase in deaths.

The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association have filed a lawsuit challenging new rules adopted by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission regarding compensation benefits and coronavirus, according to a press release from the groups.

The business associations object to having to pay workers’ compensation benefits to employees diagnosed with coronavirus who cannot prove they got the illness while in the workplace, they said in the press release.

llinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at a press conference Wednesday that he didn’t agree with the way the business groups had framed the new law, but he said he also couldn’t go into details about the issue because a lawsuit had been filed. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri is suing to make it easier to access an absentee ballot

A person cannot request an absentee ballot because they fear contracting coronavirus at the polls, according to state officials. The ACLU believes state officials are wrong and the current state law should allow people to use fear of coronavirus to get an absentee ballot. 

— Julie O’Donoghue

5 p.m. Wednesday, April 22

Gov. Mike Parson announced on Wednesday that “most businesses” throughout Missouri will be able to reopen on Monday, May 4. 

“We’re working on the policy and the guidelines for [restrictions that will be in place], but I will tell you almost every business in the state of Missouri will be able to open their doors,” said Parson. “People will go back to work. There will be some guidelines we’ll have with that, but the majority of them will be open.” 

Parson said social distancing measures will still be in place “for some time.” 

One of his four pillars in getting businesses in the state to reopen is to increase testing. Parson has said he would like to be able to expand testing capacity to 50,000 per week. On Wednesday, Parson also announced the state was expanding criteria for who can be tested for COVID-19. The new criteria allows doctors and health providers broader discretion on which Missourians can be tested. 

“The new criteria allows us to do comprehensive testing — in other words, testing everyone: staff and patients, in congregate facilities for both staff and the patients that are both symptomatic and asymptomatic,” said Dr. Randall Williams, the director of the Department of Health and Senior Services. “It also expands the criteria so we can test more first responders. 

Next week, Jefferson City will receive and temporarily house a decontamination machine to help with the N95 mask shortage. The cost of the Battelle CCDS is federally funded. It can decontaminate up to 80,000 masks daily. There will be 13 locations to drop-off and pick-up masks around the state. 

Parkway is the first St. Louis-area school district to cancel in-person summer school. The west St. Louis County school system told its staff and families this afternoon that any courses in June for its nearly 18,000 students will happen online. Three- and four-week sessions were scheduled to start June 1.

On-site summer programs are in limbo elsewhere, as we reported last week, but other districts have yet to make a final decision. St. Louis Public Schools and other county school districts have previously announced they would close their school buildings, but administrators at several districts told St. Louis Public Radio that determinations on summer programming will happen individually after they receive more guidance from the state education department.

Habitat for Neighborhood Businesses is launching the Family Dinner Program to feed about 200 families enrolled in St. Louis Public Schools. 

The program, a partnership between Habitat, St. Louis University and the St. Louis Area Foodbank, plans to offer meals through St. Louis food pantries for four to six weeks. Donations to the program have guaranteed around 100,000 meals, but officials said in a release that the program may need to be extended. 

The program will supplement the schools’ own food support and feed families with high needs due to financial hardship. 

— Jaclyn Driscoll, Kae Petrin and Ryan Delaney

Noon Wednesday, April 22

St. Louis County Parks may reopen soon, County Executive Sam Page announced this morning. The county-run parks closed at the beginning of April after large crowds of people overwhelmed the trails and gathering spaces on a temperate weekend.

The parks department is discussing how to reopen safely and which trails may open first. Page said he expects to announce more details early next week. 

Page plans to sign a measure to extend the county’s stay-at-home order later today, his spokesman said. The county executive said he would reevaluate the local restrictions by May 4, when the statewide stay-at-home order is set to lift. 

Page also said that the county health department is developing guidelines that could help more businesses open in coming months. There would be new cleaning protocols, crowd-size guidelines and social distancing recommendations. 

Workers at two St. Louis-area nursing homes are urging their facilities to take action to prevent them and their patients from being infected by the coronavirus. 

Employees of Royal Oak Nursing & Rehabilitation and the Estates of Spanish Lake Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility want more access to tests and masks, gloves and other protective equipment. They’re also asking for paid time off for workers forced to quarantine due to viral exposure and additional compensation for working during the pandemic. 

Shunda Whitfield, a certified nursing assistant at Estates of Spanish Lake, said a supervisor told her to continue to come to work despite being exposed to a resident who tested positive for COVID-19.

“It’s a really frightening experience. You’re looking at the people being sick. You’re doing all you can do physically, and it’s mentally draining,” Whitfield said. “This hazard pay isn’t going to replace a life or stop a pandemic. But it will show some appreciation.” 

New recruits are on their way to Fort Leonard Wood. The Department of Defense lifted the suspension of new soldiers starting basic training to protect from the spread of coronavirus. The recruits will immediately go through a health screening when they arrive at the base and will then stay separated from other troops for two weeks before joining units and starting training.

The military does not release how many cases of the illness have been found at any installation. Pulaski County, where the majority of the Fort Leonard Wood population is, has announced 32 cases and one death from COVID-19.

Crime trends in St. Louis County have been “flat, if not on a gentle decline” during the pandemic, police Chief Jon Belmar said. He told members of the Board of Police Commissioners on Wednesday that the department has recorded a bit of an uptick in thefts from vehicles and vacant buildings. He added that while the department has investigated four homicides in the past five weeks, there has not been a major increase in violent crime.

The meeting was Belmar’s last as chief of the department. He retires April 30 after 34 years with St. Louis County police.

— Kae Petrin, Eli Chen, Jonathan Ahl and Rachel Lippmann

9 a.m. Wednesday, April 22

Good morning, and happy Earth Day. Join us at the Virtual Earth Day Festival at 5:30 p.m. today for a livestream conversation with science reporter Eli Chen about how environmental problems and the COVID-19 pandemic intersect. Find more info on Facebook.

Protesters held rallies in Clayton and Jefferson City against stay-at-home orders on Tuesday. Many stayed in their cars, but some demonstrated in person by standing in groups and holding signs while not wearing masks. Read more: Hundreds Gather At Capitol, St. Louis County For 'Reopen Missouri' Effort

Last night’s St. Louis County Council meeting included a shouting match between Republicans and Democrats over who should control relief funding. The delay will cause the county to miss out on nearly a week of expanded testing and other resources that could have helped beat back the virus. Read more: St. Louis County Council At Odds Over Coronavirus Funding

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro: 4,711 positive cases; 199 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 5,941 cases; 219 deaths.
  • Illinois: 33,059 cases; 1,468 deaths.

— Lindsay Toler


9:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 21

Franklin County will begin reopening some businesses on Friday.

Golf courses, movie theaters, concert halls, gymnasiums, exercise studios, bowling alleys and skating rinks will be allowed to reopen.


“We must allow for businesses to thrive and for people to choose,” Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said in a YouTube video. Still, Brinker said Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s social distancing requirements, which limit gatherings to 10 people or fewer, remain in effect.

All Franklin County government buildings will also reopen to the public May 1.

— Shahla Farzan


7:45 p.m. Tuesday, April 21

St. Louis County Councilman Ernie Trakas is questioning whether County Executive Sam Page has the authority to limit religious gatherings to 10 or fewer people during the coronavirus outbreak.

Trakas, R-south St. Louis County, is concerned Page’s stay-at-home order violates the right to religious expression in the U.S. Constitution. Page’s order allows people to gather in larger groups in businesses deemed essential, like grocery and hardware stores. Trakas said places of worship should get the same flexibility under federal law.

Trakas has asked the county attorney’s office to provide a legal rationale for limiting religious services. The councilman fears the county might be sued in federal court over the issue, he said. 

St. Louis County is looking to test 4,000 to 5,000 residents for the coronavirus over the next six weeks in order to get a better picture about when it should lift its public health restrictions. 

The county doesn’t have the capacity to test the vast majority of its million-plus population, but screening a smaller number — one that is representative of the county’s demographics — should provide insight into how wide the virus has spread, said Spring Schmidt, the county co-director of public health.

The smaller group of residents would receive multiple coronavirus tests, Schmidt told the county council during a Tuesday committee hearing. First, the residents would be tested to see if they currently had the coronavirus. Then, they would receive an antibody test to see if they previously had the virus. 

Another Missouri inmate has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Department of Corrections. The patient, an inmate at Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, about 40 miles south of Cape Girardeau, first began showing symptoms on April 15. He’s now being held in an isolation wing at the prison. Three staff members at the prison have also tested positive for the virus since April 11.

— Shahla Farzan and Julie O’Donoghue

5:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 21

The number of people hospitalized in St. Louis with COVID-19 has dropped slightly over the past 24 hours. The St. Louis Metropolitan Task Force has reported there are currently 750 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the region, compared to 757 on Monday. There are 130 ventilators in use — down from 142 Monday. 

All parking meters in the city of St. Louis will remain free indefinitely, according to an announcement from Treasurer Tishaura Jones. No parking tickets will be issued, and penalties will be frozen through May. 

Illinois residents with private student loans will be eligible for relief during the pandemic, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Tuesday. 

Borrowers with privately held student loans or Federal Family Education Program loans who are struggling to make payments can now request a variety of payment relief options, including waivers of late payment fees and at least 90 days of forbearance. The changes will affect an estimated 138,000 Illinoisans, Pritzker said. 

Madison County officials and business leaders are forming a committee to examine when and how businesses can open again. The Opening Up Madison County committee will include business owners throughout the county. 

“We believe that our business owners can responsibly open up in phases, while at the same time respecting the public’s health,” Madison County Board Chair Kurt Prenzler said in a statement.

— Shahla Farzan and Eric Schmid

3:20 p.m. Tuesday, April 21

A couple of hundred people gathered at the Missouri State Capitol on Tuesday to protest the statewide stay-at-home order. 

Men, women and children of all ages stood close together, few wearing masks, holding signs and listening to a variety of speakers all wanting Gov. Mike Parson to reopen businesses throughout the state. 

Signs read “Poverty Kills People Too,” “Freedom for Missourians,” “We Have Rights” and more. Several people stayed in their cars circling the Capitol, honking their horns while playing music. Many of the car windows were chalked with similar sentiments. 

Despite Parson’s order to keep gatherings to 10 or fewer people and remain at least six feet apart, security for the rally stayed along the outskirts of the crowd. On Monday, Parson said the group had “every right to come to the state Capitol and protest.” 

More than 52,000 fabric masks have been produced by inmates, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections.

The washable masks have been distributed to inmates and staff at each of the state’s prisons. The department said each inmate and staff member has at least one face mask and will be provided a second one by the end of the week. 

— Jaclyn Driscoll and Chad Davis

11:20 a.m. Tuesday, April 21

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has created a special committee to help the city deal with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The resolution adopted Tuesday says the committee is meant to give the board a “centralized setting” to discuss the impact of the virus on the city’s economy. The committee is authorized to meet through the end of the 2020-21 session next April.

At least 186 nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Illinois have at least one confirmed COVID-19 case.

The data was published by the Illinois Department of Public Health. More than 1,800 coronavirus cases have been linked to health care facilities in the state.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow Missouri Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients to buy food online.

The program is a part of a USDA pilot program. SNAP recipients will be able to buy items online from authorized retailers. Kentucky and Texas have also been added to the program.

A target start date has not been announced.

Madison County will allow a two-month grace period for the first property tax payment for owners  struggling financially during the pandemic.

The first property tax payment will be due July 9. Late penalties will be waived for those struggling financially as long as the tax is paid by Sept. 9.

“Unfortunately, we can’t discount or abate real estate taxes, but we can give people a little more time if they’re facing a hardship," county Treasurer Chris Slusser said in a statement. 

Enterprise Holdings confirmed Tuesday that it’s laying off a number of staff members due to a decline in business from the pandemic.

The company did not say how many employees would be affected. 

“We are committed to taking care of our colleagues, including providing severance and other resources to support the transition of those impacted by these decisions,” reads a company statement. 

Pride St. Louis will postpone its annual parade from June to August because of the coronavirus.

Festivities will take place the weekend of Aug. 15-16. The organization said the event will still take place at Soldiers Memorial.

— Chad Davis and Rachel Lippmann

9 a.m. Tuesday, April 21

Good morning.

St. Louis reported 10 more deaths due to COVID-19 yesterday, the largest single-day jump in the city since the outbreak began. All of the fatalities were people older than 50. According to city data, nine of the men and women who died were African American, and one was a Caucasian woman. 

Meanwhile, good news: The number of new coronavirus cases reported in the St. Louis metro area is decreasing. Although the overall number of positive cases continues to rise, fewer people on average are getting that diagnosis today than a week ago, according to a St. Louis Public Radio analysis of county-level data. Public health experts are predicting that hospitalizations due to COVID-19 could peak this weekend in the region.

Read more: Downward Curve: St. Louis Area Now Seeing Fewer New Coronavirus Cases


Here are the latest coronavirus counts

  • St. Louis metro: 4,621 positive cases; 196 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 5,807 cases; 215 deaths.
  • Illinois: 31,508 cases; 1,349 deaths.

Feeling stressed out from reading coronavirus news? You’re not alone. Today’s feature story is about people who are gardening — often for the first time — as a response to the disruption of normal daily life. Even if you have no plans to grow your own veggies, I recommend reading/listening to this enlightening feature: St. Louisans Are Gardening To Manage Stress, Find Purpose In Coronavirus Isolation

— Lindsay Toler

5:30 p.m. Monday, April 20

Missouri’s Department of Social Services has submitted a waiver to the USDA to allow food stamp benefits to be used for online purchases. If the USDA approves the aid request, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients will be able to use their Electronic Benefit Transfer card to purchase eligible food online, including at Amazon and Walmart.

While the assistance will not cover delivery fees or other charges, Jennifer Tidball, DSS’s acting director, said in a press release that food stamp households should also have the same luxury of practicing social distancing while making food purchases in Missouri. 

“Online food purchasing with an EBT card is a necessary option. The waiver submission is the first step in the process,” Tidball said. “I am hopeful we can work with the USDA to get a quick approval for Missouri SNAP households.”

Officials from Regina Cleri retirement home in Shrewsbury reported eight new COVID-19 cases among the retired priests who live there. The residence reported its first case on Saturday. As of Monday, there are two residents hospitalized. All residents were asked to self-quarantine to help stop the spread of the virus within the facility. 

Jefferson County officials have extended stay-at-home orders until May 3. The county issued the extension to align with Gov. Parson’s order of the same date. Later this week, officials are anticipating the issuance of Phase 1, which will provide guidance for reopening the state.

— Andrea Henderson

4:20 p.m. Monday, April 20

Gov. Mike Parson announced Monday that he was restricting an additional $47 million of planned spending, in addition to the $180 million he announced earlier this month. 

Parson did not say which agencies would have budget cuts, but said nine state agencies, the Office of the Attorney General, and the General Assembly would be affected. 

“These are not easy decisions, and they are not made lightly,” Parson said during his virtual briefing. “But this is the right thing to do to make sure our budget is balanced, and we are financially prepared to deal with the impact of COVID-19 moving forward.”

Department of Public Safety Director Sandy Karsten also announced Monday that Missouri will be fully refunded for 48,000 recalled KN95 masks from China that were shipped to first responders. The state is expected to receive more than $8 million for masks that did not pass “fit-test standards administered by the Department of Health and Senior Services.” Karsten says she is limited in the information she can provide regarding the masks. 

COVID-19 patient numbers have significantly increased since the beginning of April, according to Dr. Alex Garza, the incident commander of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

As of Monday, hospitalizations have increased to 757 people seeking COVID-19 care, an uptick from 683 people on Saturday. There are 196 patients being treated in intensive care units, a jump from 176. And there are 142 people using ventilators, a slight increase from 136 since Saturday. Twenty-six patients with severe symptoms from the virus were discharged on Sunday.

Dr. Garza said the number of people infected with the virus will gradually rise as we approach the region’s peak. He said following the peak the decline will happen gradually but will be sustained only if the community continues to distance themselves from others, wash hands frequently and keep surfaces clean. 

— Jaclyn Driscoll and Andrea Henderson

3:15 p.m. Monday, April 20

There will be more coronavirus testing sites for the public and emergency shelter beds for St. Louis’ unhoused population available this week. Mayor Lyda Krewson made both announcements during a Facebook Live briefing this afternoon.

The two new testing sites, both free and operated by Affinia Healthcare, will be at 4414 North Florissant Ave. and 3930 South Broadway.

Krewson also said the city will soon have an additional 200 beds for people who are homeless to seek shelter during the pandemic, which she called enough in order to house everyone who wants to be.

A staff member at the women's prison in Vandalia has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections. It’s the only reported case impacting the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center. Across the state prison system, 12 staff members and one inmate have tested positive.

A Missouri appeals court has granted a request by St. Louis elections officials to delay two special elections until June 23 to fill vacancies on the Board of Aldermen.

Residents of the 4th Ward, in north St. Louis, and the 12th Ward, in far southwest St. Louis, were originally scheduled to go to the polls May 19. The court ruled Monday that the ongoing coronavirus pandemic amounts to an emergency under state law and granted the request to move them to June.

— Ryan Delaney and Rachel Lippmann


11:50 a.m. Monday, April 20

Washington University’s health care system is planning large-scale furloughs to deal with financial losses, even as parts of it scramble to handle a crush of COVID-19 patients.

Furloughs could affect up to 1,300 university employees and last up to 90 days, Chancellor Andrew Martin said Monday. There will be a “significant number of furloughs” at the medical campus over the summer, he said.

Wash U is under an indefinite hiring freeze, and there will be no merit raises, Martin said, adding that he and other senior leaders will take a 15-20% pay cut.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page wants to spend part of the federal money the county will be receiving on testing kits, overtime pay for first responders and hotel stays for health care workers and the homeless.

Page discussed spending priorities for $175 million during a media briefing Monday morning. It includes buying around 100,000 diagnostic and immunity tests for the coronavirus. Those tests currently cost about $25 each in a marketplace Page called “volatile and competitive."

“We need to be in this environment as fast and as quickly as possible,” he said.

Also, Page wants to use some of the money to pay the $2 million construction cost of an overflow morgue

Page said he’ll review stay-at-home orders — which he has extended to mid-May — in the coming weeks but could have news on reopening parks and trails in the county sooner.

Shake Shack is giving back its federal loan meant to help small businesses stem the losses of the pandemic shutdown, the fast-food chain founded by St. Louis native Danny Meyer announced Monday.

When the Paycheck Protection Program ran out of money last week, there was pushback that large chains received loans over small businesses.

“We’ve decided to immediately return the entire $10 million PPP loan we received last week ... so that those restaurants who need it most can get it now,” the company said in a statement Monday.

Shake Shack has laid off or furloughed some of its 8,000 employees at 189 restaurants, the company said, but has secured some funding relief elsewhere. 

The first Shake Shack in St. Louis opened in the Central West End in 2017.

Editor's note: This update has been corrected to accurately reflect the drop in Washington University operating revenue over the last month. It is down $60 million.

— Ryan Delaney

9 a.m. Monday, April 20

Good morning! It’s 4/20, the unofficial “Weed Day” holiday for cannabis users. Medical marijuana is legal in Missouri, though there aren’t any dispensaries open yet. And as we reported last week, efforts to legalize recreational marijuana here have stalled due to the pandemic.

Forty-one recovered COVID-19 patients were released from the four major health systems' hospitals in the St. Louis region yesterday, according to the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. Models project that the St. Louis area could hit its peak level of COVID-19 hospitalizations this weekend. But Dr. Alex Garza, who leads the task force, says the region could be at risk for a second surge of cases if social restrictions are relaxed too quickly. 

Missouri expects demonstrations against stay-at-home rules this week. Protesters in Jefferson County plan to hold a vehicle rally in Hillsboro today. Check back tomorrow for our coverage of the protest planned for tomorrow in Jefferson City. Both events encourage supporters not to attend if they are in regular contact with people over 70 years old or anyone with serious underlying health conditions. 

Here are the latest coronavirus counts: 

  • St. Louis metro: 4,464 positive cases; 177 people have died. 
  • Missouri: 5,667 cases; 198 deaths.
  • Illinois: 30,357 cases; 1,290 deaths.

— Lindsay Toler

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