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Coronavirus In The St. Louis Region: March 16-22, 2020

CareSTL Health's COVID-19 testing site in north St. Louis will reopen on April 27.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio
There is now "clear evidence of community transmission" of COVID-19 in St. Louis County, according to the county health department.

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

6:55 p.m. Sunday, March 22

There is now “clear evidence of community transmission” of COVID-19 in St. Louis County, according to the county health department. The CDC defines community spread as a situation in which some infected patients are unsure how they contracted the virus.

There are 55 confirmed COVID-19 cases in St. Louis County, of which 38 are new cases as of Sunday night. The county health department said six of these new cases were not travel-related.

There are also six new cases of COVID-19 in the city of St. Louis, bringing the citywide total to 14. City health department staff are working to identify individuals who may have had contact with the infected patients, according to a press release issued Sunday evening.

Empty shelves like these at Target in Chesterfield have become a common sight as the coronavirus continues to spread on March 21, 2020.
Credit David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
Empty shelves, like these at the Chesterfield Target on Saturday, have become a common sight as the coronavirus continues to spread.

MU Health Care in Columbia, Missouri, is expanding its COVID-19 testing. Providers are no longer required to ask patients about previous exposure, risk factors or travel history before ordering testing.

— Shahla Farzan

4:50 p.m. Sunday, March 22

There are 296 new cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, according to the state’s health department. Three more Illinois residents have died of the illness, including two men in their 80s and a woman in her 70s. 

Currently, there are 1,049 cases across 30 counties in Illinois. The patients range in age from less than a year old to 99.

Missouri Rep. Joe Runions is recovering in the hospital from COVID-19. In a statement, the Jackson County Democrat said he is working to ensure that health care workers in Missouri have access to critical medical supplies.

“I spoke with Governor Parson earlier today and shared my experiences and observations as a COVID-19 patient,” Runions said. “I also urged him to do all in his power to send the necessary supplies directly to our hospitals as quickly as possible.”

Metro East cafeteria workers and bus drivers are working together to feed local students while Illinois schools are closed, according to the Belleville News-Democrat.

Kitchen workers at Belleville East High School prepare daily lunches for about 1,250 students, including sandwiches and fresh vegetables. The district’s bus drivers then drop off the meals to families along their normal routes.

East St. Louis School District 189 is also providing free student lunches every weekday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Families and students can pick up meals at specific locations throughout the community, including all K-12 schools in the district, bus stops and certain Metro East community centers.

Do you own a company that produces medical gowns or masks? The Missouri Department of Economic Development is searching for companies that are currently producing N95 medical masks or gowns in large and extra-large sizes — or can begin producing them in a short time frame. 

— Shahla Farzan

12:45 p.m. Sunday, March 22

The Department of Revenue office for the City of St. Louis has closed temporarily. All valid Missouri driver's licenses and vehicle registrations with an expiration date of March 1, 2020, through April 30, 2020, have been granted an automatic 60-day extension without penalty.

Missouri now has 90 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to updated information on the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services website. There have been three deaths.

BJC HealthCare has opened its first mobile COVID-19 testing center in the Cortex corridor. In order to be tested, patients must receive a referral from a BJC provider or have been pre-screened based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. BJC plans to open additional testing sites in north St. Louis County and the Metro East in the next several weeks.

Teachers in the Rockwood School District began handing out laptops on Sunday, March 22, so students can do their work at home until schools reopen.
Credit David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
Teachers in the Rockwood School District hand out laptops on Sunday, so students can do their work at home until schools reopen.

There’s a new product on tap at Anheuser-Busch: hand sanitizer. The company joins a growing number of U.S. breweries and distilleries producing hand sanitizer to combat the spread of COVID-19. In a tweet, the company announced it will be working with the Red Cross and other nonprofit partners to “determine where the hand sanitizer will be needed most.”


— Shahla Farzan

9:30 a.m. Sunday, March 22

Good morning! The big news of the weekend so far has beenstay-at-home orders for St. Louis and St. Louis County and the state’s mandate for social distancing.

Here are the latest numbers of cases of COVID-19 in our region.

  • St. Louis metro: 35 confirmed cases, one death.
  • Missouri: 73 confirmed cases, three deaths, 395 people tested as of Friday morning (no testing updates since then).
  • Illinois: 585 confirmed cases, six deaths, 6247 people tested.

We've been answering your questions about the coronavirus situation as best we can, and you can find a lot of information here. Do you have questions about what's happening? Submit them here, and we'll work to get answers. Keep emailing my colleague Lindsay Toler about what life in these times is like for you: ltoler@stlpublicradio.org

We’ll update this live blog over the weekend, but we’re also trying to give our reporters and editors time to rest, unplug and stay healthy. It’s a difficult balance. Thank you for being patient as we work it out.

— Holly Edgell

St. Louis Lambert International Airport will remain open, despite the regional stay-at-home order. The airport is considered an essential service and is exempt from the mandatory restrictions, which begin at 12:01 a.m. Monday in St. Louis County and 6 p.m. in St. Louis city.

There is a third COVID-19 case in St. Charles County, according to the county’s health department. The patient is a man in his 20s who traveled to Spain.

An employee at Webster University has tested positive for COVID-19 and is now in self-quarantine. The patient had recently traveled to New York City with members of the school's Conservatory of Theatre Arts program.

Whiteman Air Force Base in Johnson County, Missouri, has confirmed its first case of COVID-19. The patient is an adult who's not a member of the military. 

SSM Health and BJC Healthcare have suspended in-person visitation at their facilities, including Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, St. Louis University Hospital, St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Patients will be allowed to have visitors in some circumstances. SSM Health has included exemptions for patients in pediatric settings, family birthplace centers and those in end-of-life situations. These patients will be allowed to have one visitor with the permission of a nursing leader.

BJC Healthcare also will allow visitors for obstetric patients, pediatric patients, nursery and neonatal intensive care, patients who require end-of-life care and those with behavioral health or development delays.

— Shahla Farzan

There are now 17 confirmed COVID-19 cases in St. Louis County. There has been one death so far, according to the county’s Department of Public Health. 

Of the eight additional cases confirmed, only one is classified as “travel-related.” The other seven cases are categorized as “unknown origin.” Five of the cases have occurred in patients 40 or older. 

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said health officials now have “evidence of community spread” of coronavirus in the St. Louis region during a press conference Saturday afternoon — meaning that the virus is now spreading from person to person.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced Saturday that MO HealthNet coverage will be provided to all state residents ages 19-64 who test positive for COVID-19 and meet program guidelines. The program will also waive copays for telehealth services and relax prescription refill requirements.

The state’s Family Support Division will also waive work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents for 90 days, as part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

A soldier at Fort Leonard Wood has tested positive for COVID-19. This is the first positive case of Army personnel at the installation. The base has not revealed the gender of the patient. 

The soldier had recently traveled to New York and Florida. Upon returning to Fort Leonard Wood, the soldier was immediately screened and placed in isolation. The soldier remains in isolation on the base under medical care.

Military and local health professionals are in the process of tracing and contacting people with whom the soldier might have had contact over the past two weeks. Base medical staff will continue to screen service members.

— Shahla Farzan, Holly Edgell

4 p.m. Saturday, March 21

Gov. Mike Parson announced new social distancing measures to limit social interactions in Missouri. 

Parson said he’s prohibiting social gatherings of more than 10 people in a single place. The order also prohibits people from eating at dine-in restaurants, though drive-in, pickup and delivery are still allowed. Nursing- and retirement-home visits will also be prohibited unless to provide critical assistance.

“The more that people reduce their public contact, the sooner COVID-19 will be contained, and the sooner this order will expire,” Parson said Saturday.

Grocery stores, gas stations, parks and banks will remain open while schools will remain closed. The order will take effect Monday and will remain until April 6 unless extended.

Responding to the new stay-at-home restrictions announced Saturday for St. Louis and St. Louis County, St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann responded that his county would not be following suit.

“I do not believe we are in a situation where government should be deciding which businesses must close and which may stay open,” Ehlmann said. “We will continue to educate our residents that they should stay home except to go to work and procure the services they feel are essential. If businesses and residents work together to do what is right at this critical time, we will be doing everything we need to do right now to slow the spread of this disease.”

A man who traveled internationally is the second Madison County person to have tested positive for coronavirus, the county’s health department announced Saturday, according to the Belleville News-Democrat.

Looking for new reading material? Apotheosis Comics & Lounge on South Grand Boulevard is now offering free home delivery.

— Chad Davis, Shahla Farzan, Holly Edgell

11:45 a.m. Saturday, March 21

St. Louis and St. Louis County have announced new restrictions to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. County Executive Sam Page and Mayor Lyda Krewson announced the decision jointly on Saturday. The new restrictions, which take effect Monday, will require people to stay at home when possible.

After Monday, residents will still be able to go to the grocery store and the pharmacy and take a walk in a public park in both jurisdictions. 

The first person to die from COVID-19 in St. Louis County, a woman in her 60s, was a nurse at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond Heights. 

In a statement, SSM called the woman a “beloved member” of its community and a “hero in the truest sense.” 

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said the patient, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 this week, had underlying health issues. Officials are not sure how she contracted the new coronavirus but have not yet called it a case of community spread. Her death is the third related to COVID-19 in Missouri.

Meanwhile, there is a second case of the virus in St. Charles County. A woman in her 50s traveled to Illinois and was briefly in contact with someone there who later tested positive for the disease.

Two Mizzou employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Both individuals have self-quarantined and are recovering at home, according to a University of Missouri statement. Public health officials are now working to identify anyone who might have been in contact with the two employees.

Missouri State Parks has closed visitor centers, park offices and site offices through April 30. All state parks remain open to the public, including day-use areas, lodging, campgrounds and trails. Parks staff will be available on-site or by phone to answer visitor questions.

Two Metro East hospitals are no longer allowing visitors. Memorial Hospital in Belleville and Memorial Hospital East in Shiloh announced late Friday night they have restricted entrances and instituted a “no visitor” policy. 

Certain patients are still allowed to have visitors, with some restrictions, including those seeking emergency services, surgery patients, obstetrical patients, hospice patients and pediatric inpatients.

Vehicle emissions testing stations in Illinois are closed through at least April 7, beginning Saturday. All vehicle registration expiration dates have been extended by 30 days, according to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

— Shahla Farzan, Holly Edgell

8:05 a.m. Saturday, March 21

Good morning! We are continuing to monitor developments related to the coronavirus pandemic. Most Illinois residents will be staying home nearly all of the time starting at 5 p.m., due to the shelter-in-place order from Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Many Missouri residents have already started working from home or have been sent home because their places of work have closed. 

Meanwhile, workers at essential businesses in both states are on the job — at grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies and other businesses we rely on.

Here are the latest numbers of cases in our region:

  • St. Louis metro: 24 confirmed cases, one death
  • Missouri: 73 confirmed cases, three deaths, 395 people tested as of Friday morning (no testing updates on Saturday morning)
  • Illinois: 585 confirmed cases, five deaths, 4286 people tested

You can track the state numbers for Missouri and Illinois.

We've been answering your questions about the coronavirus situation as best we can, and you can find a lot of information here. Do you have questions about what's happening? Submit them here and we'll work to get answers. Keep emailing my colleague Lindsay Toler about what life in these times is like for you: ltoler@stlpublicradio.org

We’ll update this live blog over the weekend, but we’re also trying to give our reporters and editors time to rest, unplug and stay healthy. It’s a difficult balance. Thank you for being patient as we work it out.

— Holly Edgell

7 p.m. Friday, March 20

A woman in her 60s from St. Louis County is the third person to die in Missouri due to COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. St. Louis County health officials said the patient, who had a number of underlying health conditions, died at Mercy Hospital.

While the patient did not have any travel history, officials hesitated to call it a case of community spread, which means the exact way the person contracted the virus is not traceable.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said he is constantly reviewing the county’s policies on gatherings, and did not rule out a future stay-at-home order, like the one Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced on Friday.

A member of the Missouri House of Representatives has tested positive for COVID-19, the chamber’s leadership said in a statement.

“We are still working to notify members and staff that might have been in contact with the member and have requested all employees stay out of the Capitol for at least the next 10 days. While we learn more and work closely with DHSS to take every precaution necessary, we keep this member and their family in our thoughts and prayers in their battle to return back to health,” said the statement from Speaker of the House Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield), Minority Leader Crystal Quade (D-Springfield), Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann (R-O’Fallon), Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold), Assistant Majority Floor Leader J. Eggleston (R-Maysville), and Assistant Minority Floor Leader Tommie Pierson Jr. (D-St. Louis).

Sources told St. Louis Public Radio that the individual was last at the Capitol on March 12 and was not part of the committee working on the state budget for fiscal 2021. The House had been set to pass next year’s spending plan, but the chamber abruptly adjourned Tuesday after completing a supplemental to the current budget that included funding for coronavirus response. 

Metro Transit, which operates the region’s bus, light rail and paratransit services, has announced that it will suspend fare enforcement on its buses and Call-A-Ride services for 10 days, starting tomorrow. It is also implementing rear-door boarding, unless a passenger needs to use the lift or asks the bus to kneel.

Fare enforcement will continue on MetroLink.

The agency is also going to a modified weekend schedule starting Monday, March 23, until further notice. That will reduce the frequency of many bus routes. Express route service in Missouri is suspended completely.

Metro also announced Friday that starting Monday, all employees will be screened for a fever when they arrive at work. Those with a temperature of more than 100.4 degrees will be sent home and not allowed to return until they are fever-free and have a statement from their doctor.

Mercy Health is opening three more drive-thru sites to test patients for COVID-19. The three sites will be in Washington, south St. Louis County and Hillsboro. The St. Louis County and Washington sites will open next week. Mercy officials are still determining an opening date for the Hillsboro site.

Drive-thru tests allow workers to test patients with minimal exposure to staff and other patients and thus slow the spread of the disease. 

The first drive-thru testing facility opened last week in Chesterfield and has since collected samples from more than 440 patients. 

Mercy officials warn patients they will not be tested if they show up at the site without first making an appointment with Mercy using its COVID-19 clinical support telephone number. Doctors will determine if the patient meets criteria for testing, which include symptoms such as a fever of over 100.4 and shortness of breath, and exposure to an infected person or travel to an area with a high number of cases.

The St. Louis County Council voted unanimously Friday to allow the council to meet remotely and to allow members of the public to submit written testimony in lieu of speaking publicly at the regular council meetings. 

Council chairwoman Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood, said the measures are needed to ensure the county council can continue to function during the coronavirus outbreak. Written public testimony will be limited to 400 words and must be submitted at least an hour before council meetings start, said Diann Valenti, the county clerk, during the meeting. 

The council took its votes during a meeting that was livestreamed over the internet and telephone, but which members of the public and media were not allowed to attend in person. It lasted fewer than 10 minutes. The council meets again at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

— Rachel Lippmann, Julie O’Donoghue, Sarah Fentem, Holly Edgell, Jason Rosenbaum

4:45 p.m. Friday, March 20

There are now a total of 585 cases of coronavirus in Illinois. The state Department of Public Health today announced 163 new cases of COVID-19. 

Three additional counties have reported cases: Adams, Christian and McLean. COVID-19 has been confirmed in25 Illinois counties.

Illinois is working to increase testing capacity by working with hospitals to set up testing in their facilities. The state is also working with the federal government, Walmart and Walgreens to set up drive-thru testing sites in the hardest-hit areas of the state.

The 22nd Circuit — the court that serves the city of St. Louis — has suspended all evictions until April 19.

The order issued Friday by Presiding Judge Rex Burlison also tells the sheriff’s department to stop officially notifying people that they are being sued or have to provide documents or information — what’s known as service of process. Individuals can still file lawsuits, but the official legal process on those cases will not begin until further notice.

Extraditions are also suspended until further notice.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Friday said he would restrict any gatherings statewide to no more than 10 people.

Parson said the restriction will take effect Saturday, when he announces more details of the plan. He said it would be up to individual business to decide how to comply.

Parson also announced the second death in the state from the coronavirus, an 80-year-old woman from Jackson County. The woman had not recently traveled, and officials don’t know how she contracted the disease.

The union representing Missouri’s grocery clerks and pharmacy technicians wants Gov. Mike Parson to classify them as emergency workers.

In a letter to the governor, the United Food and Commercial Workers leaders call on Parson to take actions already seen in states like Minnesota and Vermont, where its members are classified as emergency first responders and subject to additional benefits under the law. 

Those benefits include priority testing and access to medical care, additional security on the job, and wage guarantees if unable to work due to COVID-19.

"Front-line grocery and pharmacy workers are showing more courage than the governor of Missouri as they stand in front of customers who are potential carriers of the coronavirus," said David Cook, president of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 655.

— Fred Ehrlich, Rachel Lippmann and Holly Edgell

3:20 p.m. Friday, March 20

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has issued new sweeping restrictions on movement in the state, the latest steps he has taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The order, which goes into effect March 21 at 5 p.m., closes all nonessential businesses, including hair salons, retail shops and recreational businesses like bowling alleys. It does not apply to grocery stores, pharmacies or other essential services like gas stations. Transit and roads will not be closing down, and restaurants will still be able to provide takeout if they wish.

People are still able to leave their houses for walks and other exercise as long as they are not under quarantine for COVID-19 exposure or infection.

Read our full story: Illinois Gov. Pritzker Orders Residents To ‘Stay Home,’ Nonessential Businesses To Close

— Rachel Lippmann

12:15 p.m. Friday, March 20

Missouri will not boot people off Medicaid until the end of the federal emergency declaration in response to the new coronavirus outbreak.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is relaxing rules for those covered by the state health insurance program for poor families and people with disabilities. Adult Medicaid recipients who test positive for COVID-19 will have their benefits extended for three months.

State officials are waiving application fees and telehealth co-pays and easing requirements for prescription refills. They’re also waiving the requirement that food stamp recipients work to receive benefits. Those who receive child care subsidies will have their benefits extended 90 days.

The new provisions align the state with new federal requirements in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that President Trump signed into law this week. The package includes requirements for paid sick leave for some jobs, free testing and expanded benefits.

Looking for takeout or delivery food? Explore St. Louis has launched a website to help you. Take It Home STL keeps updated hours and delivery information for all restaurants that opt in to the system.

The site also has information on other ways to support restaurants, like buying gift cards, as well as information on the latest food preparation practices to keep employees and customers safe from COVID-19.

Transit riders, Metro Buses and MetroLink trains are being cleaned throughout the day and every night during the coronavirus outbreak. 

Bi-State Development President Taulby Roach said Thursday night that if a rider is showing symptoms of COVID-19, such as coughing, the bus or train car will be pulled and disinfected. Metro does not plan to reduce service during the coronavirus outbreak, according to its website

Small businesses across Missouri and Illinois will be able to access federal loans to blunt the economic impact of the pandemic.

Worth up to $2 million, the low-interest loans can be used to “pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that cannot be paid because of the disaster’s impact,” said Jovita Carranza, administrator of the Small Business Administration, which manages the loan program.

Any small business in Illinois is eligible, as are Missouri businesses in the city of St. Louis and St. Louis, St. Charles, Jefferson, Lincoln and Pike counties.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday directed two state departments to seek similar assistance for all of the state's small businesses. 

Business leaders in St. Louis and Kansas City have issued an urgent call to Parson to immediately order uniform social distancing across the state.

The letter, obtained by our public radio colleagues in Kansas City, was signed by the heads of St. Louis organizations, AllianceSTL, the Regional Business Council, Civic Progress, Arch to Park, Mercy, BJCHealthCare and SSM; Kansas City organizations, St. Luke's Health System and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce; and CoxHealth in Springfield

Parson has said repeatedly he will not order the closure of businesses, because the needs of rural and urban communities are much different. 

Read more: Missouri Business Leaders Beg Gov. Parson To Order COVID-19 Restrictions: ‘Missouri Must Act Now’

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 2 p.m. to correct the number of organization leaders that signed the letter sent to Gov. Mike Parson.

— Sarah Fentem, Rachel Lippmann and Kae Petrin

9 a.m. Friday, March 20

Good morning, and thank you! We really appreciated hearing from so many of you yesterday. It was great to hear how you’re holding up and what you think of this blog. Keep emailing me about what life under self-quarantine is like for you: ltoler@stlpublicradio.org

We’re going to use these first-of-the-day posts to update you on how many confirmed cases there are in our bi-state region. The numbers are changing constantly now, so remember that what you see here in the morning might be out of date by noon. 

  • St. Louis metro: 23 cases, no deaths
  • Missouri: 28 confirmed cases, one death, 395 people tested
  • Illinois: 422 confirmed cases, four deaths, 3,150 people tested

Want to see the numbers for yourself? Here’s where we’re keeping track for Missouri and Illinois. We’ve noticed that tallies for individual counties are taking a little longer to update. We’ll use a combination of those sites and announcements by county and city health departments to inform our count for the bi-state St. Louis area.

The city of St. Louis has added 10 public handwashing stations in high-traffic areas for people without access to running water. Read more about how the city is bracing for coronavirus among people who are experiencing homelessness: St. Louis-Area Providers Of Homeless Services Brace For Coronavirus.

And we’re updating our coronavirus Q&A with new questions and answers. Don’t see your question answered? Ask us here.

We’ll update this live blog over the weekend, but we’re also trying to give our reporters and editors time to rest, unplug and stay healthy. It’s a difficult balance. Thank you for being patient as we work it out.

— Lindsay Toler

11:10 p.m. Thursday, March 19

There will be no Missouri education assessment tests for schoolchildren this year.

Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven canceled the testing Thursday, saying, “There is a time and place for statewide required assessments, and now is not the time.”

All schools in the state are now closed, with no clear timetable for resumption of classes.

— Fred Ehrlich

6:20 p.m. Thursday, March 19

St. Louis County’s assessor is in self-imposed quarantine because two teachers at his son’s day care have tested positive for COVID-19.

Jake Zimmerman, who is also a candidate for county executive, said in a Facebook post that it’s been over a week since he or his son was at the school, “but this is no moment to put others at risk. I'll be self-isolating for the full 14 days from our last contact with the preschool.”

Zimmerman did not say where his son attends preschool, but two staff members and a parent at the Deutsch Early Childhood Center at Temple Israel have tested positive for the virus, the school said in a post to its families. The preschool is currently on spring break and will not reopen.

– Ryan Delaney

5:15 p.m. Thursday, March 19

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson will not mandate that businesses throughout the state close, he reiterated at his daily press briefing Thursday. He said ordering businesses to close is “much easier said than done” and is not the correct decision at this time. 

“The last thing we want is our small-business owners to not be able to open their doors because we mandated them to close prematurely,” he said. “That being said, this is not a decision we are taking lightly.” 

Parson’s approach differs from that of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who ordered restaurants and bars to end dine-in service by Monday. Similar decisions were made by local elected leaders around St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield and Columbia. Parson said that he supports those decisions but that there are “major differences” between urban and rural communities. 

“It is much harder to go into a rural community and start mandating businesses to shut down when they don’t have the infrastructure, the resources or the plan in place that an urban area does,” he said. 

As of today, all Missouri public and charter schools in the state have closed. This was a decision not mandated by Parson, but rather made by individual districts. 

Todd Richardson, director of the Department of Social Services, said the state has now removed all restrictions on telehealth in an effort to reduce in-person interaction. He said the department is also working to ensure that Medicaid participants will not be required to make a co-payment for telehealth services on COVID-19 testing. 

The St. Louis County Council will consider making changes to its open meeting rules during a meeting at 4 p.m Friday that the public has been barred from attending, in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

The county says it will offer internet and telephone streams of the meeting in lieu of allowing public attendance. 

The meeting agenda from the council sent Thursday did not say how the ordinances — which ensure public access to meetings — might be changed during the meeting. Council Chairman Lisa Clancy said she’s proposing changes so the council can continue to meet during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Typically, county ordinances cannot be changed during a meeting that the public can’t attend in person. The council said it is limiting the number of people at Friday’s meeting in order to comply with an executive order issued by County Executive Sam Page that restricts gatherings to fewer than 10 people. 

Jaclyn Driscoll and Julie O’Donoghue

3:55 p.m. Thursday, March 19

All of Missouri’s public schools are now closed, as the last remaining rural districts made decisions to close their doors for at least a few weeks. 

Two districts in Warren County have committed to not re-opening for the rest of this school year. While most districts have said they are closing through late March or early April, there’s a growing expectation among educators that the closures will last significantly longer.

Cars will stop rolling off GM’s Wentzville assembly plant line at the end of the day Monday, the automaker said Thursday afternoon. General Motors announced a nationwide suspension of manufacturing Wednesday that will last until at least March 30.

Big-box retailers in the St. Louis area have also begun closing up, including Kohl’s, IKEA and Old Navy.

Restaurants, bars and cafes in Rolla and elsewhere in Phelps County are shutting down dine-in services by Saturday morning. The Phelps County Commission has declared a state of emergency in response to coronavirus and banned gatherings of 50 or more people. There are exceptions for health facilities, residential communities and shelters. 

Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla has moved to online classes only. There have been no positive tests for COVID-19 announced in Phelps County as of Thursday afternoon, but there has been one in neighboring Pulaski County.

Officials in St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin counties are limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people in the western and southern reaches of the St. Louis region. 

“We don’t want anybody out there to think that if you only have 10 people in a room, that’s safe,” said Steve Ehlmann, the St. Charles County executive. “Even nine, eight people in a small room can be just as dangerous as 50 people in a larger room.”

St. Charles County’s health department announced its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on Wednesday evening. A woman in her 20s tested positive for the disease after traveling, county health officials said. She has been quarantined at home.

There are no confirmed cases in either Franklin or Jefferson counties.

— Ryan Delaney and Jonathan Ahl

1:30 p.m. Thursday, March 19

Southern Illinois University has postponed its spring commencement ceremonies at its campuses in Edwardsvilleand Carbondale to help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

University officials said they are trying to reimagine what the convocation could be and will solicit ideas from eligible graduates about innovative ways to carry out this spring’s ceremony.

The decision follows a similar call made by Washington University days earlier. 

Jails in the St. Louis region are taking different approaches to protecting inmates and jail workers from the coronavirus. St. Louis’ facilities have restricted personal visits, but St. Louis County is still allowing family and friends to see detainees.

Visits with family and friends in the St. Louis County jail take place through a glass window. The meetings are safe for the inmates because no physical contact or air can be exchanged between the visitor and the detainee, said Raul Benasco, the county’s jail director. 

Volunteers and others who run arts programs, religious services and other activities are no longer allowed inside. In lieu of those services, Banasco said inmates are being given more time to watch television, exercise and make phone calls. 

— Andrea Henderson and Julie O’Donoghue

8:30 a.m. Thursday, March 19

Good morning! How is it going? Like you, we’re doing the best we can with a total disruption of our daily lives. Our reporters are working from home as much as possible and trying to stay safe when they’re out reporting in the community.

We care about how you’re doing in this challenging time, and I invite you to let us know: Are you managing all right? What’s it like at your grocery store? How is working from home? What do you want us to know or to look into as part of our news coverage of coronavirus? You can email me anytime at ltoler@stlpublicradio.org, or submit a question to our Curious Louis Q&A

Missouri hit a grim benchmark Wednesday in the coronavirus outbreak: The state reported its first death from COVID-19. A patient in the Columbia area whose infection was related to travel died one day after being diagnosed. We don’t know much more than that yet. 

And 538 of 555 school systems across Missouri are now closed, at least temporarily. The Warren County R-III School District and Wright City R-II School District announced Wednesday they will be closed for the rest of the school year.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more live updates as fast as we’re able to report them. 

— Lindsay Toler

9:35 p.m. Wednesday, March 18

U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, has decided to self-quarantine after coming into contact with one of two members of the House of Representatives who has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease spread by the new coronavirus.

In a statement Wednesday, Wagner said she was in a meeting with one affected colleague last week. U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Ben McAdams, D-Utah, both said they had tested positive for the disease.

Wagner said after consulting with the attending physician for Congress “out of an abundance of caution," she has decided to self-quarantine.

“While I feel fine and am not exhibiting any symptoms, I will follow the advice of the attending physician until cleared,” she said. “In the meantime, I will continue to work remotely through teleconference as Congress works to provide a strong and effective response for everyone impacted by this virus.”

— David Cazares

8:10 p.m. Wednesday, March 18

St. Charles County has its first case of COVID-19. A woman in her 20s tested positive for the disease after traveling, county health officials said. She has been quarantined at home.

The woman’s positive test was determined by a private lab. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must confirm the result. 

“We have been monitoring individuals with symptoms and those who have traveled in areas where COVID-19 is prevalent,” St. Charles County Public Health Director Demetrius Cianci-Chapman said. “We are not surprised that there is a case in our community, because of the spread of the virus around the globe.”

He urged residents to avoid contact with others and to wash their hands to avoid infection.

The Illinois State Police will close its buildings to the public to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

“Calls for service for a crime in progress have dropped in recent days, which has been helpful so we can adjust to these circumstances,” Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly said.

State police will continue to investigate crimes, process evidence and perform background checks, Kelly said. But investigators will rely on phone calls and electronic communication to ensure social distancing.

— Andrea Henderson and Eric Schmid

5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 18

Two Washington University physicians have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease spread by the new coronavirus, university officials said Tuesday.

One of the doctors lives in St. Louis and the other in St. Louis County. They are not currently working with patients and have been quarantined, university spokeswoman Judy Finch said in a statement. 

The university has not disclosed in which hospitals the doctors work. Wash U physicians work in all BJC hospitals, including Barnes-Jewish Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

“We are working as diligently and quickly as possible with public health officials who are focused on identifying and communicating with anyone who may have had contact with the physicians,” Finch said.

Two Washington University undergraduate students also have tested positive for COVID-19, Chancellor Andrew Martin said. The two students, who studied abroad in Denmark, did not return to campus and both are in quarantine out of state, Martin said.

Some St. Louis-area doctors are beginning to cancel in-person appointments. The SLUCare Physician Group announced Wednesday that it is contacting patients to reschedule minor visits, wellness check-ups and cosmetic procedures to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

Appointments related to severe illnesses and conditions as well as surgery follow-ups will remain on the books. For the first time, the physician group will hold telemedicine or virtual care appointments visits with patients. 

— Andrea Henderson

4:05 p.m. Wednesday, March 18

Missouri's first death from the coronavirus is in Columbia, Gov. Mike Parson has confirmed.

The patient, who contracted the virus during travel, was just diagnosed with COVID-19 yesterday. Parson provided no information about where the patient had traveled, or their age.

Columbia Mayor Brian Treece said emergency medical crews responded today to a 911 call at the patient’s house for a medical emergency. Treece says emergency responders knew that the patient had the virus and wore appropriate protective gear. He says the six emergency workers will remain under quarantine until they receive additional guidance.

“We mourn the loss of one of our community members, and I thank our health care providers and first responders who had planned for this. To be prepared, but not to panic,” Treece said. “We are in this together, and we will get through this together.”

St. Louis is limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people beginning Friday morning, Mayor Lyda Krewson announced Wednesday afternoon. That decision follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to prevent community spread of the novel coronavirus.

On Sunday, Krewson and other political leaders in the region banned gatherings of 50 or more. This newest restriction in the city goes into effect after Thursday night, the last night restaurants in the metro area are allowed to have sit-down dining.

“We think that this moving to social gatherings of 10 or fewer is the prudent thing to do at this time,” Krewson said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. Krewson said she didn’t know how long the ban would last.

Krewson answered several questions from reporters about the second confirmed case of COVID-19 she announced earlier Wednesday but declined to say where the patient works. 

“The information will come out, it’s just not going to be announced by us,” Krewson said, adding that the person was not a city employee. 

Dr. Fred Echols, the city’s public health director, also declined to offer more details about when and where the patient was tested. 

— Rachel Lippman and Ryan Delaney

2:50 p.m. Wednesday, March 18

Barnes-Jewish Hospital is conducting its own tests for COVID-19. The hospital has been able to test a small number of patients on-site since Monday, a Washington University spokesperson told St. Louis Public Radio.

Barnes-Jewish Hospital Clinical Laboratory is currently the only hospital-based lab in the state able to do diagnostic testing for the novel coronavirus. It developed a test that uses nasal swabs and could provide results in 24 hours.

Because of limited testing capacity, only patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital or St. Louis Children’s Hospital are eligible. Barnes-Jewish is trying to increase capacity, a spokesperson said.

The Wash U spokesperson said the on-site test will improve understanding about how widespread the virus is in the St. Louis area.

The Riverfront Times laid off nearly all of its staff Wednesday morning. 

The coronavirus-related closures and cancellations that have rocked the region’s dining, nightlife and music scenes in the past week have thrown the alt-weekly into financial peril, editor Doyle Murphy wrote in a letter on the publication's website. The RFT focuses much of its coverage and draws much of its advertising revenue on those entertainment industries.

“It turns out, COVID-19 also makes for a nearly perfect weapon against alternative weeklies. Across the country, papers are announcing salary cuts, layoffs or anything they can imagine to keep the lights on,” Murphy wrote.

“That’s where we are today. We laid off nearly our entire staff this morning with the hope that if we act now, we can rebuild and bring them back later.”

Sorry, nature lovers, the Missouri Department of Conservation is closing all visitors centers around the state. All conservation areas, trains and boat access points remain open. State parks and other natural areas in Illinois closed Sunday, the state’s Department of Natural Resources previously announced.

– Brian Heffernan and Ryan Delaney

10:55 a.m. Wednesday, March 18

St. Louis has a second positive case of the coronavirus, and officials warn that others may now be exposed to it.

Mayor Lyda Krewson tweeted Wednesday morning “there's reason to believe there is community exposure. This individual continued to go to work in the City while exhibiting symptoms.”

“While we still don't have any detected signs of community transmission at this time, this case underscores the importance of what our healthcare professionals have been telling us,” the mayor tweeted.

There are four positive cases in St. Louis County and five in the Metro East: St. Clair and Clinton counties both have reported two, and Madison County has reported one.

Ryan Delaney

10:35 a.m. Wednesday, March 18

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson hasissued an executive order delaying the April 7 municipal elections until June 2.

“Postponing an election is not easy, but we are all in this together,” Parson said in a statement. 

The postponement does not change the deadline to register to vote (which has already passed) or to file as a write-in candidate (March 27). But the new deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is now May 20.

The order does not appear to affect the May 19 special elections to fill two seats on the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has halted all meetings until further notice. The board was already scheduled to be on spring break until April 20, with the new session scheduled to start the next day. The board has also gone to limited staff in the office.

The St. Louis County Council, which is also on spring break, had previously decided not to schedule any committee meetings until further notice, and was looking into ways to conduct business remotely.

The federal court that includes St. Louis has suspended all jury trials, both criminal and civil, with a start date before May 31. All essential court proceedings in the Eastern District of Missouri must be conducted by phone, teleconference or other means when possible, and nonessential ones must be delayed. The courthouses will remain open but with limited hours.

Yesterday, the Western District of Missouri, the federal court for the other side of the state, halted jury trials and grand jury proceedings through March 29.  As of March 15, the Southern District of Illinois, which covers the Metro East, had halted civil trials but was proceeding with  jury trials on a case-by-case basis. 

The state court in Madison County, Illinois, has placed further limits on its operations, including delaying all arbitration cases scheduled for March, and all foreclosure cases scheduled through April 20. There are currently no jury trials scheduled for the next two weeks, and a court employee said officials are weighing their options for after that.

— Rachel Lippmann


9:10 a.m. Wednesday, March 18

Health officials in Madison County have announced the county’s first case of coronavirus. 

Our partners at the Belleville News-Democrat report the county health department held a press conference Tuesday night.

Toni Corona, Madison County’s director of public health, said the man “did everything he was supposed to do” once he recognized his symptoms, according to the News-Democrat.

This makes a half-dozen confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Metro East, including two in St. Clair County. Across Illinois, there are more than 160 cases and one death, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

In St. Louis, the International Institute is closing its doors to refugees and recent immigrants. The agency will still answer phones, but beginning Thursday, events and English-language classes will not take place, the institute's president, Anna Crosslin, said in a letter. Institute staff will still provide services and consultations with clients over the phone or video chat.

“The stress is real for everyone but especially for our clients who may struggle with language and cultural barriers. Be kind if you come into contact with a foreign-born person and help them if you can,” Crosslin said. 

The Gateway Arch has closed to the public. The Arch — which often speaks in the first person on social media — said the National Park Service has temporarily closed it, the monument and Old Courthouse. Pre-purchased tram ride tickets will be refunded. The park grounds remain open.

The National Park Service has announced the temporary closure of my park, which includes the Old Courthouse and I, beginning today, Wednesday, March 18 until further notice due to the evolving COVID-19 health situation. — Gateway Arch (@GatewayArchSTL) March 18, 2020

Ryan Delaney

8:25 p.m. Tuesday, March 17

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Tuesday evening he will not be closing restaurants or bars throughout Missouri to deal with the coronavirus. He “strongly suggests” alternative ways to do business, such as carryout or delivery, which he said is an “obligation” of businesses.  

Parson is also leaving the decision to close schools at the local level. As of Tuesday afternoon, 432 school districts have chosen to stop or suspend classes. Parson said it’s important communities make the decisions on how the children in those areas are fed and taken care of if school is canceled. 

“A lot of these school districts don’t have day care, for one,” he said. “A lot of these schools are the main employer of those areas and those towns and everything. To me, it was the obligation to leave that to the local levels to decide how they would manage that.” 

Parson said 15 Missourians have now tested positive for coronavirus and 253 have tested negative. 

Parson will now hold press briefings daily. He is scheduled to address the media again on Wednesday around 7 p.m. 

Jaclyn Driscoll

7:50 p.m. Tuesday, March 17

St. Louis schools will provide free meals over the next few weeks to children 18 and younger. Kids can visit 33 sites across the city between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. to pick up a grab-and-go sack with breakfast and lunch meals. A student ID is not required.  

Three sites will open tomorrow at the Carondelet Leadership Academy, La Salle Middle School and Gene Slay's Girls & Boys Club of St. Louis. The rest will open on Monday. View a complete list and map of the locations offering meals here.

Corinne Ruff

6:20 p.m. Tuesday, March 17

There are now 15 cases of COVID-19 in Missouri. 

Missouri Health and Senior Services said the state lab tested 52 more people Tuesday; five tests came back positive. Two counties reported cases tested by other labs.

Corinne Ruff

3:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 17

There will be no in-restaurant dining in the St. Louis region as of midnight Thursday.

The elected leaders of St. Louis and St. Louis, St. Charles and Franklin counties made the joint announcement Tuesday to shut restaurants and bars, part of a coordinated effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“When experts talk, we have to listen,” St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said. “These are the serious, responsible measures that our community needs at this time.”

For more, read our full story: Restaurants Must Close Dine-In Service Across St. Louis Region

“This virus is the reality,” said Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker. “We can change reality if we take action sooner rather than later. We are going to create the better results.”

— Rachel Lippmann

2:40 p.m. Tuesday, March 17

There are now 10 cases of COVID-19 in Missouri. 

One of the two latest cases is in Jackson County, which includes the Kansas City region. Health officials there said the patient is an 80-year-old woman who has not traveled recently. She tested positive for the virus through a private lab, the Jackson County Health Department said. 

The Cass County Health Department has confirmed its first case of COVID-19. The patient lives in Drexel and is in home isolation, following the guidance of the CDC. Cass County is directly south of Jackson County.

— Holly Edgell

Phelps Health Medical Center in Rolla is setting up drive-thru testing for COVID-19.

Medical professionals conduct drive-through tests for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, for Rolla residents at Phelps Health Medical Center on March 17, 2020.
Credit Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio
Medical professionals conduct drive-through tests for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, for Rolla residents at Phelps Health Medical Center.

Early this afternoon, employees were told to move their cars from a parking lot on 10th Street in order for a tent and portable booths to be put in place. The hospital has not released information on when testing will begin, or what criteria will be used to determine who can be tested.

Last week, a patient possibly having COVID-19 was put in isolation in the hospital. That test was negative.

—  Jonathan Ahl

1:50 p.m. Tuesday, March 17

Elected prosecutors across the St. Louis area are adjusting the way their offices operate to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In St. Louis, Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner is “coordinating cash bail alternatives” with court officials, public defenders and private attorneys to reduce the number of people cycling in and out of jail. She is also asking her attorneys to request continuances in cases where the defendant is not a risk to public safety.

In St. Louis County, Prosecutor Wesley Bell is “prioritizing serious and violent cases” and those in which a defendant is in jail. Individuals charged with nonviolent offenses who do not pose a threat to the victim will be released with a summons to appear in court at a later date. Defendants meeting these criteria who are in jail could be released pending their court date.

State’s Attorney Thomas Gibbons’s office in Madison County, Illinois, will be operating with essential staff only to handle criminal felony warrants and matters that cannot be dealt with over the phone or by video. Individuals needing orders of protection can find the appropriate forms at the county’s law library, located in the basement of the Madison County Courthouse, 155 N. Main St., Edwardsville.

— Rachel Lippmann

Listener Joyce Huster of Country Lane Kennels in St. Charles turned to Curious Louis with two common coronavirus questions: “Can COVID-19 affect dogs, and can it transmit to humans from dogs? In short, the answer to both questions is no.

Dr. Leah Cohn, a professor at the University of Missouri Veterinary Health Center who specializes in treating respiratory diseases for small animals, said there is “absolutely zero evidence” that COVID-19 transmits from pets to people. 

While COVID-19 was originally transmitted from an animal (most likely a bat) to a human, now the disease is only transmitting from human to human, according to the CDC

Cohn said it is important to note there are coronaviruses in dogs, cats and some livestock, but none is the same strain that is causing this outbreak. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association has issued a COVID-19 guide for pet owners

Have a question for us? Ask Curious Louis here.

— Kayla Drake

AT&T is suspending data caps — the limit on how much information a household can transmit and receive online.

It also will not terminate broadband service for the next few weeks if a customer can't pay for reasons related to the virus outbreak. The company is also pledging to waive late fees if a customer proves economic hardship related to coronavirus.

Spectrum, which is owned by Charter Communications, does not have limits on data for home internet customers. It is offering two months of free broadband service for homes that are not subscribers but have K-12 or college students.

The companies are hoping the measures will ease the financial burden for many families who have to rely more on high-speed internet access while the CDC and government officials recommend people stay home, work remotely and carry out coursework online to deal with the coronavirus.

Both internet service providers say they are opening Wi-Fi access points for general public use.

— Wayne Pratt

12:35 p.m. Tuesday, March 17

Missouri casinos will close at midnight Tuesday and remain shut through March 30. Gov. Mike Parson said on Twitter that he made the decision after consulting with the chairman of the Gaming Commission.

— Corinne Ruff

11 a.m. Tuesday, March 17

The National Park Service has suspended tram rides at the Gateway Arch until further notice.

As of Tuesday, the visitor center, museum, documentary movie, park grounds, Arch Store, Arch Café and Old Courthouse remain open for visitors.

The park service is issuing refunds to people who have purchased tram ride tickets. Call 877-982-1410 or email info@gatewayarch.com with questions.

— Holly Edgell

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District is moving to postpone a vote on Proposition Y that was scheduled for April 7. 

Proposition Y will determine how MSD funds $1.5 billion in capital improvements over the next four years.

The decision is in the hands of circuit courts in St. Louis and St. Louis County. 

Voters in the city and the county will vote on the measure. MSD said that this vote will likely come in April 2021 and that the delay will not affect wastewater rates in 2020 or 2021.

— Holly Edgell

Seeing a movie at an AMC Theatres cinema will not be an option during the evolving coronavirus situation.

The national chain announced Tuesday that it will close all locations for six to 12 weeks.

In a tweet, the company said, “We will continue to monitor this situation very closely and look forward to the day we can again delight moviegoers nationwide by reopening AMC movie theatres.”

— Holly Edgell

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra is postponing or canceling all concerts and events through April 12.

The SLSO said people with tickets to a concert that has been rescheduled or postponed can keep them for new dates. It directs those requesting refunds to visit its website.

The message to patrons also asked:

“Please consider donating the value of your tickets for any canceled concerts back to the SLSO. Such a gift will help the SLSO continue to fulfill its mission to enrich lives through the power of music. Your ticket donation is deductible, and you will receive a receipt for tax purposes.”

— Holly Edgell 

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page is asking his Civil Service Commission to loosen employment rules to allow the county to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

An executive order issuedTuesday tells the personnel director to establish rules that, among other things, allow employees who might have to work from home to be able to perform other duties that are not in their job description if they cannot do their assigned duties. It also asks for rules that would require employees who have traveled outside the St. Louis area to get permission from the health department to return to work.

“We will make every effort to lessen any adverse effects these adaptations may have on our community and we will keep an open mind about innovative ways of maintaining services to the public,” Page said in a statement. “St. Louis County can perform our services successfully only with the hard work and dedication of our employees. Protecting the health of our employees is a priority as we confront the COVID-19 crisis.” 

— Rachel Lippmann

11:25 p.m. Monday, March 16

In response to the COVID-19 emergency, city offices in Belleville will be closed to the public from Tuesday through March 30, city officials announced.

The city will continue to provide essential city services, including police and fire protection, sanitation, trash pickup and sewer services.

Belleville officials also announced that the city’s public libraries will remain closed through March 30, and all Parks and Recreation events and activities, including events at the Nichols Center, are canceled through the end of the month.

All events at the city parks that will draw 50 or more people, including reservations for special events and sporting events, are canceled until May 11, city officials said.

All inspections by the Health, Housing and Building Department will be scheduled on a case-by-case basis until further notice.

— David Cazares

9:10 p.m. Monday, March 16

Franklin County will close its schools from Wednesday through April 3, officials said Monday.

School activities, including athletic and extracurricular competitions, also will be canceled during this period. The county’s 11 school districts plan to provide more information about learning plans in the coming days.

The Gateway YMCA plans to close its facilities from Tuesday until March 30. The nonprofit also plans to close child care services for children ages 5 through 12, but on March 23, early childhood centers will reopen and emergency child care will be offered at some locations.

While the Gateway YMCA facilities are closed, workers will clean the facilities and contact older adult members to conduct wellness checks.

The installation commander of Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County has declared a public health emergency. On Tuesday, the base will enter a mission-critical status that likely will remain in effect until March 30, officials said. People will still be able to access the base, but civilian employees who are not mission critical are discouraged from going there.

— Eli Chen


8:55 p.m., March 16

St. Louis University student has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease spread by the new coronavirus, SLU President Fred Pestello said Monday.

St. Louis officials announced late Monday that the person, who is in their 20s, is the city’s first case of COVID-19. Mayor Lyda Krewson announced that the state Department of Health and Senior Services has confirmed to city health officials that the person tested positive for the disease. The test must be confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a letter to the SLU community, Pestello said the student was one of two tested for COVID-19 after returning to St. Louis from a trip to a country where there are many cases of the disease.

Dr. Fred Echols, the city’s health director, said the students flew into another city and then drove to St. Louis.

Before reaching the city on Friday, they called ahead to report they were feeling ill and were referred to a hospital for consultation and testing on Saturday, Pestello said.

He said the student who tested positive is in isolation. Test results on the other student, who does not have symptoms, are pending, Both live off campus and have not returned to the SLU campus.

The student, who was tested Saturday, likely has not exposed others to the virus, Echols said.

Meanwhile, a third person in St. Louis County has tested positive for COVID-19, county health officials. They said the person, who had traveled internationally, is older than 50.

The latest cases bring the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Missouri to eight.

— David Cazares

Washington University has canceled commencement ceremonies scheduled for May 12-15, Chancellor Andrew D. Martin said Monday.

In announcing the decision, Martin cited recent guidelines from state officials in their efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Sunday banned public gatherings of more than 50 people, following recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“As with all of our tough decisions recently, the safety, health and well-being of our community and region continues to be our top priority and guiding principle,” Martin said. “This is our moment to do our part to flatten the curve and practice leadership and service for the sake of the greater good.”

— David Cazares

6:05 p.m. Monday, March 16

The Missouri Botanical Garden will close daily operations at the garden, as well as the Butterfly House, Shaw Nature Reserve, Litzsinger Road Ecology Center and Little Shop Around the Corner until April 3. Events, including the Orchid Show, are suspended through May 1.

— Corinne Ruff

A Missouri appeals panel has denied St. Louis County’s request to delay its municipal election and authorize the use of mail-in ballots.

The Board of Elections had asked a special panel of judges to postpone the election until April 28 with a mail-in option, or until Aug. 4 without a mail-in option. 

While the judges did not entirely rule out postponing the election, they questioned the need for the delay until August. They also expressed concerns about the impact of the proposed lengthy delay on the cities, school districts and other public entities holding April elections.

The case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning elections officials can try again.

— Rachel Lippmann

Grocery stores including Schnucks, Dierbergs and Straub’s have agreed to expand health care benefits for unionized workers who may become infected with COVID-19.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 tweetedthat copays for coronavirus testing will be waived, and employees who become sick with COVID-19 will retain 90% of their pay. Short-term disability benefits have also been boosted. The changes apply to St. Louis-area workers in both Missouri and Illinois that are represented by the UFCW.

Those additional benefits come on top of changes that included adjusting hours at some stores, and relaxing some of the rules around union-protected work.

Rachel Lippmann

The St. Charles County Department of Public Health announced Monday it is waiting on two COVID-19 tests to come back from the state lab. County Executive Steve Ehlmann also updated his executive order declaring a state of emergency to include a limit on gatherings to 50 people or fewer. His order also advises vulnerable individuals, including those 60 and older, not to engage with more than 10 people. The order does not apply to schools, grocery and retail stores and public transit.

— Corinne Ruff

5 p.m. Monday, March 16

State officials in Missouri said it will be nearly two weeks before they can start widespread testing of the coronavirus.

Right now, the threshold for testing is extremely high: Only people showing symptoms who have traveled to countries with large outbreaks are being tested in Missouri. 

Dr. Randall Williams, who runs the state health department, told Kansas City officials on Monday when more tests should be available.

“We hope by April 1 to shift our capability to have the test to test all Missourians who have a fever of at least 100.4 and a cough,” Williams said.

Williams said the state can currently test about 1,000 people per day. But the state so far has tested only 170 people for the virus. Six of those have tested positive, including two in St. Louis County.

— KCUR 89.7 (Kansas City)

Catholics in St. Louis will not be able to attend public Mass for the time being, as a measure to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of the Archdiocese of St. Louis has suspended all public Masses immediately. For now, he said, Masses are scheduled to resume on April 6, but he will re-evaluate that date as needed.

In addition:

  • Churches will remain open for prayer and confessions. 
  • Holy Communion may be distributed outside of Mass at times determined by the pastor.
  • Decisions to continue with baptisms, weddings and funerals will be made at the parish level with the understanding that the celebration of these sacraments are to include only immediate family members.
  • All fish fries that remain open will offer either drive-through or pick-up options only.

The press release also says:
“The archdiocese understands the economic impact that this emergency is having on our community as a whole. However, in times like this, it is even more urgent for us to pray for and assist our brothers and sisters who are in the most need.”

— Holly Edgell

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has closed all of his offices until March 31.

Expiration dates on driver's licenses, license plates and other transactions or documents are extended by 30 days.

“After careful consideration, it is clear that this decision to close offices and Driver Services facilities is the right one to make for the health and safety of Illinoisans,” White said in a statement. “This important action will help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

White also called on the federal government to delay the Oct. 1, 2020, REAL ID deadline.

-- Rachel Lippmann

TheAssociated Press is reporting that the Illinois House has postponed its session, and the schedule going forward remains in flux. The state Senate had already canceled its sessions for this week. A spokesman told the AP that the chamber’s leaders “continue to evaluate the situation.”

— Rachel Lippmann

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health said, as of 3 p.m. Monday, 14 tests are pending results from the State Public Health Laboratory. Four tests were sent for testing on Sunday, and three were sent on Monday. 

The county said it has received a total of 19 tests with negative results and two positive cases. The Missouri State Laboratory will no longer require presumed positive tests to be sent to the Centers for Disease Control for an additional level of confirmation.

— Corinne Ruff

4:40 p.m., Monday, March 16

The city of St. Louis has shuttered most of its recreation centers until further notice.

"The situation will be continually monitored and centers will be reopened at a time deemed appropriate by the St. Louis Department of Health,” the city’s parks department tweeted.

The closure does not apply to the two recreation centers that are also branches of the YMCA — one in O’Fallon Park and one in Carondelet Park. That organization has already placed limits on group gatherings and facility rentals, but the buildings remain open for now.

Rachel Lippmann

The St. Louis region’s three largest library systems have announced they will close temporarily in an effort to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The nine libraries of the Municipal Library Consortium of St. Louis are considering similar measures.

The St. Louis Public Library will close all its branches beginning at 6 p.m. on March 16, until further notice. 

A statement from the library reads in part: 

“The decision to close is a difficult one. The staff of St. Louis Public Library cares deeply about serving our community. We recognize that the Library and its many programs and services are an invaluable resource. However, we view this as the most responsible path forward to support the health and well-being of our communities at this time.”

The St. Louis County Library will close all 20 branch locations from March 17 through April 3. A press release states it “will re-evaluate as needed in an effort to help limit the spread of coronavirus.” 

The St. Charles City-County Library announced that all library branches will be closed from 5 p.m. March 16 through April 5. 

All three library systems are extending due dates and holds. They also are encouraging library patrons to use online resources:

— Holly Edgell

The Missouri History Museum, Soldiers Memorial Military Museum and the Library & Research Center will close their doors starting at 5 p.m. Monday. Events, tours and scheduled programming are also canceled through May 9. The opening of a special exhibit, Beyond the Ballot: St. Louis and Suffrage, is postponed until May 16. Museum employees are expected to work from home until further notice.

The Art Museum will also close for at least four weeks. Individuals who had purchased tickets to the current special exhibition or other events will receive automatic refunds.

Corinne Ruff and Rachel Lippmann

St. Louis will make parking meters free until April 6.

St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones on Monday announced this and other changes to parking enforcement to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and address economic hardship. 

The release reads in part: “These efforts will limit human contact and the spread of the coronavirus and other germs on surfaces, while also helping people through an economically difficult period while schools are closed.” 

In addition to free meters and no tickets:

  • Penalties will be frozen through April 15.
  • All hearings for parking ticket adjudication will be rescheduled. 
  • All departments have developed skeleton crew and work-from-home plans. 
  • Offices and garages are being thoroughly cleaned with numerous precautions to protect the health of workers.

— Holly Edgell

3:15 p.m. Monday, March 16

The Illinois Department of Public Health announced 12 new cases of COVID-19 in the state on Monday. The two counties reporting new cases are Peoria and Will, both located southwest of Chicago. 

Other locations with cases include Chicago and Champaign, Clinton, Cook, Cumberland, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Sangamon, St. Clair, Whiteside, Winnebago and Woodford counties.   

In all, IDPH is reporting 105 cases in 15 counties in Illinois. Cases have occurred in all age ranges and the number of cases that do not have a clear connection to travel or a known COVID-19 case is increasing, according to the department.

— Holly Edgell

2:50 p.m. Monday, March 16

On Monday afternoon, Mayor Lyda Krewson tweeted that there will be a moratorium on evictions in St. Louis until further notice, “to ensure individuals can maintain access to housing during the #COVID19 outbreak.” 

According to the city’s Justice For All initiative, in 2016 there were about 3,000 eviction cases in the city. This means there were about 40 evictions for every 1,000 renter-occupied households in St. Louis. 

Analysis from the Eviction Lab National Database at Princeton University shows black St. Louis residents are twice as likely to be evicted as white residents.

Holly Edgell

The Missouri Supreme Court has suspended most in-person court proceedings across the state until at least April 3. That includes all municipal and appeals courts, including the state Supreme Court. Some cities, like Bridgeton, have suspended their dockets even longer

There are some exceptions to this latest court order, like orders of protection, trials already in progress, or matters directly related to the coronavirus pandemic, such as an effort by St. Louis County to delay municipal elections. Attendance at these hearings, however, “is limited to the attorneys, parties, witnesses, security officers, and other individuals necessary to the proceedings as determined by the judge presiding over the proceedings.”  

The federal court that includes St. Louis had already put strict limits on who could enter courthouses, but cases are still proceeding. 

— Rachel Lippmann

1:25 p.m. Monday, March 16

Major League Baseball will delay its season by at least eight weeks, in accordance with federal guidelines on large gatherings.

“The Clubs remain committed to playing as many games as possible when the season begins,” the league said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor ongoing events and undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts, and urge all baseball fans to follow suit. MLB extends its best wishes to all the individuals and communities who have been impacted by the coronavirus.”

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said City Hall will remain open for the time being despite a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.

“I want to be clear with people — this is a very serious situation,” Krewson said in an appearance on St. Louis on the Air. “But we are the government. We provide so many services.”

Krewson said the marshals are working with Collector of Revenue Greg Daly, who runs the license office at City Hall, to space people out. She urged individuals to take a number, then move away from the crowd.

Any city employee who has to be quarantined due to exposure or potential exposure to COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, will be paid during that period, Krewson said. In addition, they will not have to use any vacation or sick days.

But she urged federal assistance for workers in the hospitality industry who are being hit hard by the coronavirus-related closures.

— Rachel Lippmann

The Illinois Gaming board ordered the suspension of all video gaming Monday, prohibiting establishments from operating the machines until March 30. The ban went into effect at 9 a.m.

“The public health of patrons, video gaming industry employees, Gaming Board staff, and all others is of paramount importance,” Board Administrator Marcus Fruchter said. 

— Belleville News-Democrat

11:15 a.m. Monday, March 16

Courts across the region are imposing new restrictions on their operations. The 22nd Circuit, located in the city of St. Louis, and the 21st Circuit, in St. Louis County, are prohibiting anyone who has recently traveled to a foreign country, or who have been in contact with someone who might have COVID-19, from entering the courthouse. The city is now requiring most hearings in cases with defendants who are in jail to be conducted by video conferencing. Both courts suspended jury trials last week.

In Illinois, St. Clair County has postponed all civil matters until April 10 and is discussing whether to suspend criminal proceedings as well. Madison County is also discussing whether to suspend jury trials. 

— Rachel Lippmann

The Missouri State High School Activities Association announced Monday it will cancel the remainder of the Show-Me Showdown basketball semifinals and championships for classes 4 and 5.

The organization said it made the decision in light of the recent CDC recommendations to limit gatherings to 50 people. It plans to release more information later in the day about music, speech, debate, scholar bowl and spring sports activities.

— Corinne Ruff

10:40 a.m. Monday, March 16

Good morning. Thank you for reading this live blog. We are updating it as fast as we humanly can. Send feedback and tips to feedback@stlpublicradio.org. Have a question? Ask us here.

A sixth person in Missouri has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Gov. Mike Parson said the patient is from Greene County. Missouri has tested 170 people, with 164 tests coming back negative. No positive results have been reported from commercial labs.

More closings: The St. Louis Aquarium is closed until March 31. The Riverboats at the Gateway Arch are suspending operations. The visitor center in Forest Park is closed. In Illinois, the Illinois State Museum and all affiliate locations have closed, as well as all state parks, fish and wildlife areas, recreational areas and historic sites. 

The St. Louis Zoo has also closed to the public with plans to reevaluate closer to April. But don’t worry, zookeepers are still taking care of the animals. Coronavirus is not known to cause disease in any animal species. 

— Lindsay Toler

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